Heavenly Sword opens with Nariko (Anna Torv) being scolded for assaulting a warrior in her clan. She is supposed to be a great warrior herself as prophecy dictates, but because she is female, her father feels that she cannot possibly be the fated “Heavenly Warrior.” But this isn’t an issue for very long. The warlord Bohan attacks her clan, and Nariko proves herself worthy in battle. She is handed the legendary Heavenly Sword, the only weapon in the world that could tip the scales of power in their favor. She must learn to wield the sword and deal with the consequences that its power brings.
The movie is drawn from a pretty popular video game. And the video game roots can be felt through most of the movie. It kind of moves like a modern narrative video game, with bursts of action against waves of nameless foes interrupted only by long stretches of exposition that explain the backstory behind all this fighting. And while that experience can work in an interactive context, it isn’t nearly as compelling in a film. Heavenly Sword is like watching somebody else play a video game.
To the film’s credit, the bones of the story are pretty solid. It plays on the tyranny borne of prophecy, with a shortsighted ruler unable to look beyond the patriarchy for their means of salvation. On paper, Nariko is a strong female character, one that discovers her true worth as she comes to defy the inane rules set by her father. But on screen, a completely lack of subtlety undermines the development of themes. Nariko is more of a strong female image than a character, and her competency is overshadowed by her terribly impractical wardrobe choices.
The movie is dead in the water whenever people are talking. Everyone speaks in declarative sentences that explain the overly complicated backstory of this world. The movie ends up overexplaining every little thing, at times repeating information that’s already been delivered. Things pick up a bit in the movie’s many action set pieces, but not by much. The animation just isn’t good enough to create anything memorable or even just noteworthy.
At times it feels as though they used the video game’s graphics engine to put this film together. While that might be okay on the small screen, it looks awful projected on a big screen. It certainly doesn’t compare to what we usually get from computer animated films. The film also captures one of the most frustrating things about modern videogrames, with the camera seemingly always one step behind the action. The voicework isn’t very good, with Anna Torv making Nariko sound pretty robotic. And the dubbing often doesn’t match the animation.
The last few years have seen the rise of “Let’s Play” videos on Youtube, which shows that there’s some appeal to just watching other people play games. But there is added value in the commentary, or in filtering those experiences through a unique personality. But Heavenly Sword exhibits no such personality. It is like watching a computer play itself, just getting from one end to another without any regard for who might be watching. It seems reasonable to just recommend that people just go play the games instead of wasting their time on this nonsense.