Heroes of the Golden Mask (2023) Movie Review: Directed by Sean Patrick O, ‘Heroes of the Golden Mask’ tries to create a marriage between reality and fantasy. The script, written by Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith, which follows a highly conventional plot.
It revolves around Charlie (voiced by Kiefer O’Reilly), a teenage orphan who lives on the streets of Chicago and tries to make ends meet with any opportunity available. A wealthy mobster – Rizzo (voiced by Christopher Plummer in his last role), uses this kid’s hunger to his advantage and asks him to do risky tasks.
But Charlie is all game for it. Why? His survival. He steals and hustles and lives on whatever he earns from that. He does not even mind casually joking about this status. Overall, he appears to be a hustler due to circumstances more than choice.
Suddenly, he enters a fantastical world from the past. In that world, Li (voiced by Natasha Liu Bordizo) laments her beloved father, Jiahao’s (voiced by Byron Mann) death. After this tragic loss on the battlefield, she must find a replacement for her father’s mask. Whoever can fit in that mask will be considered its bearer.
Li comes to the present-day world, i.e., the time that Charlie is from. To her utter surprise, the mask fits the thieving Charlie’s face. She is surprised since Charlie seems unsuitable for the responsibility. She also cannot consider him a replacement for her dutiful father.
Anyhow, because of her, Charlie transports to a time ages back than his own. In this era, he is responsible to defeat an evil conqueror called Kun-Yi (voiced by Ron Perlman). It is necessary to save the ancient Chinese kingdom of Sanxingdui from menace. King Yufu (voiced by King Lau) trusts him just as little as Li does. Still, they allow him to join their gang of superheroes for a significant mission.
Charlie sets on this adventure largely as a way to earn some quick bucks. He sees the gold on the mask and looks at it as a way of getting out of his miserable life. His focus is not to help these people get justice. But his thought process changes over the course of fighting the battle with the heroes from that world.
The further journey is wildly similar to the first Kung Fu Panda film. Like Po, Charlie is also technically unfit, besides being a highly unconventional choice as a warrior. Li joins him in the pursuit of justice. She is a wise guide, like how Master Shifu is for Po. Charlie tries to win his way over to victory and prove his worth to others, fairly similar to how Po does.
Unfortunately, the writing on Heroes of the Golden Masks is not nearly as fascinating as the Kung Fu Panda films. Jack Black’s Po had an unmatched charisma. Charlie’s character arc does not offer nearly enough, in terms of writing, to emotionally invest us in his journey. The comedic bits also feel stale. The sheer obviousness of much of his ‘adventure-packed’ journey turns it rather into a dull affair.
‘Heroes of the Golden Masks’ does try to elaborate on its themes of chosen family, the meaning of life, and survival, among a few others. They all feel either contrived or largely familiar. The animation style looks odd and strangely dated, which makes it hard to stay focused on the film.
In a week that already gave one of the most captivating and visually stunning animation films in the form of Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse, ‘Heroes of the Golden Masks’ feels lazily characterized. Even if one may consider the budgetary differences, one cannot ignore the poorly drawn faces of most of its characters.
Similarly, the writing does a disservice to making its adventure feel weary. The superheroes are sketchily written, which makes any emotional involvement in their victory impossible.
Besides that, the central character of Charlie is needlessly villainized for his outwardly selfish intents, for the most part, while ignoring that he acted that way mostly out of necessity. In a movie where the stakes never feel as high as they are supposed to, this apathy feels like another weak point.