The major plus of the film is its referencing of ancient Greek legend, so that this doesn’t simply inform the theme but really becomes the theme – when the Warriors finally have their moment on the beach in Coney Island, you really do get a glimpse of how Xenophon must have felt like the day he and his men at last came to the Aegean after their harrowing retreat through Persia.
The comic book references are also a plus. Apparently Hill went in this direction because the studio insisted that a gang would have members from different ethnic groups, which is wholly unrealistic – gangs form in ethnic neighborhoods, and ethnophobia is one reason they form. So Hill chose a look that would emphasize the fantasy element the studio insisted on.
However, the grand comic book approach is not really in Walter Hill’s range. I couldn’t help thinking how much better a film this would have been had John Carpenter directed (especially since Carpenter stole moments from this film for his “Escape” films – and improved on them). And the comic book approach also determined Hill’s direction of his young cast – and let’s face it, none of them crest the margin of professionalism here.
There are awkward moments throughout the film. Much of it is anachronistic, almost embarrassingly so – the gang structures depicted in the film are pure 1950s; the clothing and hairstyles are late 1960s. the dialog is an off-setting mix of ’50s and ’60s. Within five years of the making of this film, most street gangs were becoming big business, thanks to the introduction of crack cocaine; in fact drugs are almost never used in this film, which is ridiculous. Finally, there’s the music – nothing any gang member would be caught dead listening to, ever. The comic book/fantasy element simply doesn’t justify or excuse these decisions, and they come off feeling like mistakes.
The fight scenes are pretty good for the day but are just begging for some real martial arts to tip them over the edge. The suspicion popular in the movie’s era, that this film could inspire violence among the audience, is simply hilarious now. Obviously anyone committing violence after watching this film was going to do so anyway.
So we have an interesting reflection on an old Greek legend, a rapidly paced fantasy action film, and some unforgivable misfires in execution.