The wicked King Bohan (Alfred Molina) seeks to gain control of the Heavenly Sword, a powerful divine weapon prophesied to destroy him in the hands of the Chosen One. Nariko (Anna Torv), a young woman whose clan is devoted to protecting the Sword from Bohan, must embark on a journey to find this Chosen One and end the evil king’s reign.
What an odd project this is. Heavenly Sword is an adaptation of a 2007 action video game by first time director Gun Ho Jang, and seems to use a lot of the same visual assets in its computer animation. Whilst that must have been a relief for the animators, Heavenly Sword certainly looks every bit a work of ten-year old animation – and it certainly wasn’t Pixar quality when the game came out.
Actually, I must correct myself – I compared footage from the original game to the film and the game is actually more detailed then this offering. Which, again, is all very bizarre – I can’t really work out why this film was made. Who was it for? Why did the producers think that adapting a seven year old game that wasn’t exactly a cultural touchstone would find an audience?
Was it for fans? Because this is an almost beat-for-beat retelling of the video game’s story, albeit with plot changes that will no doubt mystify them: flatter voice acting, and pacing that generally feels rushed and drained of character.
Was it to attract new audiences? Because the animation cannot stand up to contemporary examples. The plot and editing is extremely choppy and confusing, and if you had no connection to the video game there seems to be nothing at all that would interest you in this production.
Video game adaptations have never really found their feet in the world of film, with even the best examples being patently mediocre. Whilst video games themselves have such polished production values in this day and age that they feel positively cinematic at times, it doesn’t change the fact that the two mediums engage with their audiences in profoundly different ways, with particularly profound differences in pacing and focus.
Heavenly Sword (the game) was a good effort, if rough around the edges – an aesthetically pleasing romp with memorable characters, helped along greatly by the involvement of Andy Serkis providing voice acting work and directing the story sequences. In contrast, Heavenly Sword (the film) has none of these things.
I’d say this was a cheap cash grab, but I can’t seriously see this film making a lot of money.
Reviewed by Brendan Whittaker
Rating out of 10: 3
Heavenly Sword will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 28 July 2016.