I feel kind of bad for any animated movie (or even live-action far that matter) that comes out in the shadow of Across The Spider-Verse, because the bar has been set very high forcing whatever comes out this year to have to be graded on a curve. That said, Arcana Studios’ latest film Heroes of the Golden Mask, while visually beautiful, leaves us desperate for a strong story and exquisite writing as it does not pass the smell test.
Heroes of the Golden Mask is joint Canadian/Chinese production that explores the mythology and iconography of ancient China as it creates a world where a group of heroes with golden masks are tasked with defending the ancient Chinese kingdom of Sanxingdui from invading enemies. When one of the heroes meets their unfortunate end, the mask “chooses” a new champion. The mask chooses Charlie (Kiefer O’Reilly), a homeless kid who is simply scratching and surviving in our present-day on behalf of a local mobster “Uncle” Rizzo (Christopher Plummer in his final role), and he becomes magically transported thousands of years into the past where he is tasked with learning to become a hero. Of course, he’s a young selfish kid who has only learned hardship throughout his life. Can he become a hero?
In Heroes of the Golden Mask, Charlie inherits a magical mask that gifts him with telepathy from the group’s former leader Jiahao (Byron Mann). Jiahao’s daughter Li (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) with her own mask that helps her conjure magical bows and arrows is tasked with finding Charlie and teaching him how to be a hero. Also on their team is Aesop (Patton Oswalt), who has a Thor-like magical hammer, Zhu (Osric Chau), who can shapeshift into animals, and Zuma (Zeus Mendoza), who can conjure up Hadoken-styled energy balls.
These “Heroes of the Golden Mask” are charged with defending Sanxingdui from Kunyi (Ron Perlman), who has come from another realm in search of a magical sword that would render the powers of the Golden Mask team unnecessary and take over the kingdom. Why? Who knows! All we know is they have to stop them, and Charlie needs to learn to be a hero and reject his own selfish needs and become the hero he needs to be.
The animation and the world-building in Heroes of the Golden Mask are a worthy effort. The film is visually impressive and the notion of giving each hero their own unique powers proves to be a good idea, especially when they have their Avengers-like hero moments. However, the story itself proves to be weak and predictable. Despite an impressive list of well-known actors providing their voices for the heroes, it reeks of stunt-casting as they don’t necessarily deliver outside of lending their voices to a weak script. The film is also very lean but even at a little bit more than an hour, feels a little too long as the storyline could have been covered in a 30-minute of episodic television. This will probably be good for young kids, but beyond that, this will be a big chore for parents.
Heroes of the Golden Mask is currently available On Demand.