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Heavenly Sword
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by Jay Seaver

"Just play the game."
1 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It was bad enough for "Heavenly Sword" to be terrible, but for it to be the second and more egregious bad movie I saw from the same category is annoying. It makes me regret my "Bayonetta" review, because I fear that even though I may not have used all my "how movies from video games are generally terrible" material on that, I kind of feel like I'm slagging a whole broad category of movies more than I want to, when the actual situation is that the festival booked two real stinkers, probably because they are predictable in terms of decent tickets sales.

This one takes place in a pseudo-Japanese fantasy kingdom, positing a sword of incredible power sent from above for an ancient battle but which is now guarded by a nomadic tribe, as it is too powerful and corrupting to use for any but the men of the chief's line. The current leader, Shan, has only a daughter, Nariko (voice of Anna Torv), though she is likely an equal to the clan's best male warrior, Kyo. Thus, evil king Johan (voice of Alfred Molina) sees an opportunity - if he can wipe or the weapon's protectors, he can turn the sword to darkness. And while Nariko, Kyo, and crazy-girl founding Kai escape and discover Shan has an illegitimate son, this unsuspecting Loki (voice of Thomas Jane) happens to be working the center of Bohan's citadel.

I don't think it's impossible to make a good movie from a video game, but I think it's somewhat telling that the most successful game-to-film franchise, Resident Evil, is quite far from slavish toward its source material. Games and films have different narrative needs, even in the action scenes, although they're getting closer. This one really is laughable, though, with a backstory that can exist for no other purpose than to set this particular sorry up and characters with no life beyond their designated purpose. There are sequences that seem to exist entirely to reflect game mechanics, such as a surprisingly dull but that involves fighting while sliding down massive suspension cables. The plot is full of empty reversals entirely because that sort of random redirection can serve a game well - you, as a player, get to do something new! - even if it is dramatically unsatisfying in a movie.

A little polish could help, but beyond a bit of decent fight choreography that is undercut by generally unimpressive direction, the movie looks and sounds cheap. The animation looks like it was rendered in real time by the game's graphics engine, down to sometimes-baking camera movement, under-populated backgrounds and unnatural stillness. The voice acting ranges from the inoffensively bland (Anna Torv) to the actively annoying (Kai is already a little psycho even before the deranged baby-talk, so the voice she's given is just complete excess) That doesn't even include the absolute worst celebrity voice job I can remember - I hope you got paid, Tom Jane.

There's a built-in audience for this, and who knows, maybe it tells the game's story better than the game itself did. But without the ability to jump in and actually get some sort of competitive adrenaline flowing from controlling Nariko or Kai, I can't see how what's on display here could be of much interest to people who don't have the sense-memory of playing triggered while they watch.

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originally posted: 08/20/14 12:57:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/04/14 Frantisek Stibora The original game's story/narrative is actually much, much better :( 1 stars
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  DVD: 04-Sep-2014



Directed by
  Gun Ho Jang

Written by
  Todd Farmer

  Anna Torv
  Alfred Molina
  Thomas Jane

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