The Dynasty Warriors game series is arguably one of the best adaptations of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms epic out there, on par perhaps with this author’s personal greatest of all time, Koihime Musou, although that a topic of discussion for another time. By being completely faithful to the source material, the Dynasty Warriors movie stand out by being one of the better video game movies out there, a feat that only a few others have achieved, such as Mortal Kombat back in 1995. Fans will delight in the over the top action and rocking soundtrack that are synonymous with the franchise, which easily overshadows its weaknesses as a standalone movie.
Yes, this movie has flaws, and they are pretty glaring ones too, which primarily stems from the indecisiveness of the director. At some points, it feels like Dynasty Warriors attempts to be (yet another) wuxia period piece, which it barely pulls off, before it remembers that it is a videogame movie first and foremost. However, if you are able to put up with its technical deficiencies, there is much to enjoy here as a franchise fan. It opens with the Yellow Turban rebellion that has been depicted for the umpteenth time. The production team is aware of that fact and they mix it up with an odd incorporation of supernatural elements, where fallen soldiers are resurrected as the undead. That does very little to impact the general flow of sequence however, as heroes Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei arrive and make short work of the horde regardless. These three are easily identifiable with their trademark in-game costumes and weapons, although it should be pointed out that Guan Yu in particular lacks the imposing stature that his real life counterpart is known for. The familiar rock music kicks in and soon the battlefield is cleared with a mix of swipes, swings and musou activations.
After the dust settles, the movie dips to its lower points, as without the aid of cutscenes, it has to actually string together plot points before we get to the next action set piece. This is where the aforementioned indecisiveness surfaces, as the depictions of characters and chain of events flip flop between staying true to the book and the more abridged version presented by the game. Some critical moments are presented faithfully, while other are mentioned only in passing. There is even an odd Lady of the Lake sequence, where Liu Bei and his blood brothers are bestowed their legendary weapons, which serve very little purpose other than provide exposition for the two other central figures in the form of Cao Cao and Lu Bu. Speaking of the two, the casting leaves much to be desired, since like Guan Yu, Lu Bu is not quite the intimidating character you have come to expect, while Cao Cao has been replaced by his otome game counterpart. To be fair, with an epic tale with such a large cast, the director did give the important ones their fair shake for the most part, and developed them sufficiently to have more depth and their game depictions, even it falls short compared to the likes of Red Cliff, for example.
But to circle back to the original point, Dynasty Warriors shines the most when it is not doing anything story related and goes balls to the walls with the action. This is exemplified in the ‘final’ battle against the mighty Lu Bu at the Battle of Hu Lao Gate. Any indiscretions by the movie up to this point has all been forgotten as all the best parts about it culminates and is amplified here. The conclusion leaves much to be desired however, although that is to be expected given the actual flow of events. Many things are glossed over and it is quite clear the the production team intends to make more installments. Seeing as how this has been very entertaining so far, more of it is definitely welcomed.