Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Heavenly Sword - The Movie

There are times a project comes together that is made up of individual pieces that simply scream to me "this is going to be absolutely wonderful."  It's destined to wind up my "best of the year" list and all I need to do is simply sit back and partake in its splendor.  A writer I love and an artist I love will come together to draw a comic book featuring characters I love to read about, and I wind up with Matt Fraction's run on Hawkeye.  A stellar cast comes together with amazing directors and producers and you can wind up with, well, any of the movies that found their way onto my best of the year list.  Writers finally hit their strides and I get amazing novels.

So let's look at the puzzle pieces here:

We have an animated movie.
Anna Torv (Fringe) voices the heroine, a sexy red-haired acrobatic woman wielding a powerful sword.

Alfred Molina (you know, the guy I just talked about being amazing) playing the villainous king.

Other voices by Thomas Jane (y'know, the Punisher), Nolan North (everything), Ashleigh Ball (Black Lagoon, Applejack AND Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony), and Barry Dennen (so much stuff on Broadway).

A story line involving revenge via massive battles against swarms of enemies, requiring a deft director's eye to choreograph complex fight sequences since this is based on a fighting game that essentially looked at God of War and went "yes, everything from that, just make the lead a woman."

Written by Todd Farmer, a guy whose extensive career includes... hold on, I don't actually know this guy.  Let's see what else he wrote.... okay, he wrote... Drive Angry, The Messengers, My Bloody Valentine 3-D...and Jason X.  As in "the one where Jason goes into space."

You know what?  I'm going to save all of you some time if you want to bail from this article.  This movie's terrible.  It's just awful.  The rest of this post is going to just be me ripping it apart and bemoaning the fact that I wasted an hour and a half of my life when I could have been doing anything else and it would have amounted to more, including "licking random mosses growing outside to see if they're toxic."

Whoever wrote this movie has clearly never actually talked to another human being in their life.  I half suspect that if writer Todd Farmer talks the same way as he writes, he would be unable to pass the Turing Test.   For one thing, I'd say half of the movie feels like it's narration.  You have the opening narration about the world itself, then narration about the bad guy, followed by narration about the main characters, then MORE narration about the main characters, followed by narration between the main characters.  Every bad guy shows up with a monologue ready on index cards to read off, and side characters don't have a "Press X to skip dialogue" button anywhere.

The story line is so weak it belongs in a video game from the 80s, where story lines rarely mattered ("a gorilla kidnapped your girlfriend, go get her back.")  We follow Nariko, the bastard offspring of a guy who was supposed to give birth to the "chosen one" but instead had a daughter.  When the bad guy shows up and attacks, she's sent with another young woman named Kai (more on her later) to find her father's "bastard son" who would be the actual chosen one and deliver a powerful magical artifact to him so he can save the world.

I'm not that worried about spoilers here.  It turns out Kai is another bastard offspring of Nariko's father (the guy just kept impregnating women trying to get a son, it seems), their half-brother gets killed moments after receiving the sword, and it turns out Nariko was destined to hold the sword the whole time.  Oh, but wielding the sword steadily kills the person holding it, so there's a deadline to Nariko's ability to save the world before her own weapon destroys her.

Which, to be honest, is one of many, many things in the movie that makes no sense.  Why would a weapon meant to save the world kill whoever wields it?  That seems like shoddy design.  I mean, unless you're trying to keep whoever wields it from abusing the power, but in that case I think you need a stricter definition of "chosen one."

Kai might be the most annoying character I've ever seen, topping Jar Jar Binks, every secondary character in a Transformers movie, and the chalkboard from Jaws.  She talks in a cutesy, kid way, but her dialogue makes no sense ("Don't tell anybody, Kai likes to make blooooooood."), her voice is raspy and too "whispery," and she exists as the focal point for the biggest plot hole in the movie: namely how does a character who gets stabbed through the chest while hanging from a noose for at least five minutes survive being carried back the entire trip back to the base they started from?

There are plot holes scattered across this movie.  The main character's sleeve changes sides on her outfit without warning.  The bad guy's facial scars move around on his face between scenes.  The sword is wrapped in fabric one moment, exposed to everybody as the camera cuts, and then wrapped again a half-second later.  Characters barely seem to interact with any of the surfaces around them.  The bad guy's motivations mean nothing, and the main character's reasons for opposing him are hollow.  Villains show up with vague powers that make no sense, and a character survives what I was pretty sure would be a topple off a ledge into lava with no explanation (they hint he hit solid ground, but still, he landed on his head, that should have killed him).  Once Nariko does defeat the bad guy, she doesn't kill him because...I guess it would make his evil, twisted son sad?

The Heavenly Sword video game came out in 2007.  This movie came out in 2014, and I can barely tell there's any improvement in the animation.  Mouths and eyes don't move as they should, and the fighting style in the movie can best be described as "cut away before attacks hit and then show the after-effect."  Oh, and "when in doubt, fill the screen with dust and then have huge shock waves knock everybody back."

I'm told the game has a better story (not that hard to believe), and one person even told me that the acting is better by some of the people who transitioned from the game to the movie.  Alfred Molina, bless him, does the best with the source material he was given, but with no motivation and nothing to make his villain distinctive beyond "grr, I'm evil because I'm evil," he falls completely flat.  Anna Torv's acting nearly put me to sleep, Ashleigh Ball's Kai made me want to rub cheese graters over my ears, and Thomas Jane's Loki was so wooden he was probably carved from the scraps of the log Pinocchio came from.

The whole project screams "easy paycheck" for everybody involved, and it shows.  There's little to no pacing in the movie, instead jumping from fight scene to fight scene with a few pauses for narration instead of actual character development, and the "twists" in the story feel forced and rushed because they need to get to another fight or character talking the audience to death.

Watching this movie is enough to understand why Roger Ebert believed that video games were not "art."  If the games we play inspire movies like this, it's no surprise studios instead go for children's toys and board games.  I would sooner hope to see someone adapt an Ikea instruction manual into a movie than see another video game be put through a studio and come out looking like this.

(Seriously, I don't agree with that "games are not art" position, but it's really hard to come up with a counter-argument with this movie being anywhere near the conversation.)

Bad graphics, bad acting, and a story so terrible it makes me miss Blood Angels.  This is easily going to be on my worst of the year list, in fact it might make the "worst things since I started this blog" list.

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