“Warriors … come out to play-ay!”
Director Walter Hill’s 1979 gang epic is a curiosity in 2018. The film ruled its opening weekend with a $3 million haul, en route to a respectable $22 million. A few movie goers greeted the film with violence during its first week of release.
A 19-year-old gang member died at a drive-in theater showing the film after his gang collided with a rival group. The incident, along with similar clashes, led to theaters beefing up security where the film played.
Sol Yurick’s novel spawned this futuristic film where colorful gangs rule the Big Apple. The story opens as a large number of thugs gather for a possible end to their feuding. The charismatic Cyrus (Roger Hill) tries to unite them but is gunned down mid-speech.
His killer (David Patrick Kelly) fingers the Warriors as the culprit. Suddenly, the city’s toughest gangs want blood. The Warriors retreat, desperate to return home to Coney Island with their lives.
Like many films with a distinct vision, “The Warriors” slowly developed a cult following. This critic could see why after viewing the film for the very first time.
Sure, the acting is uneven and the story drags in places. Still, there’s an urgency to the mission, a sense that we should care about this unfairly targeted gang more than necessary.
Antiheroes rule in our current pop culture age. From that perspective, “The Warriors” fits right in. In other ways? The film is very much a product of its era.
Here are seven instant takeaways from my first screening of the landmark film.
Where’s the (Inevitable) Remake?
It’s a minor miracle Hollywood hasn’t brought the story back in some fashion. It’s not for lack of trying. The directors behind “Avengers: Infinity War” signed up for a TV version of the film two years ago. There’s precious little progress on the project since then, and Joe and Anthony Russo seem tied up in their “Avengers” project, among other titles.
Identity Politics Take a Back Seat
Any remake would clearly harp on the ethnic stew behind the original film. “The Warriors” featured mostly black gangs as part of the cultural mix. Yet the Warriors featured black gang members, too, and race rarely entered the equation. They were brothers, first and foremost. They’d protect each other no matter what.
That scenario seems impossible in our current age. Even if the upcoming “Warriors” TV show is similarly set in the future race will likely play a larger role in the proceedings.
Not Woke by Half
Our antiheroes aren’t exactly gentleman. That’s expected from any sort of gang. Still, they treat the sole female cast member of note, Deborah Van Valkenburgh (“Too Closes for Comfort”), like an unwanted accessory. Gang members routinely taunt each other as “faggots” when they seem less than brave.
That might be how gangsters act and talk, but chances are a new “Warriors” wouldn’t let them act that way.
Honor Among Thieves
We don’t actually see these gangs stealing stuff beyond a number of “free” subway rides. Still, there’s an honor code in play throughout the film. You have to squint at times to see it. It’s there all the same, a moral consistency that paves over the gangs’ belligerance. It’s why we cheer on the Warriors (maybe not James Remar’s Ajax) and hope every subway car door opens at just the right time for them.
Those Comic Book Panels
“The Warriors” opens on a grandiose note comparing our antiheroes to a group of corrnered Greek soldiers. The movie swiftly jettisons that haughty air, replacing it with comic book style panels transitioning from scene to scene. Feel familiar? Twenty four years later Ang Lee embraced a similar style for his ill-fated “Hulk” film. Today, comic book tales rule Hollywood, with or without panels. “The Warriors” beat the industry to the punch.
Who Does Your Hair, Man?
The film opens in the future, although the time period is left uncertain. Still, we know exactly the year in play. It’s 1979 based on the hair styles of the various gang members. “The Warriors” isn’t the first film set in the future but with very contemporary ‘dos. Hollywood can’t look past the present when crafting stories set in the future. “The Running Man” similarly told a futuristic tale with actors wearing their oh, so current hairstyles.
The Best Lectures Are Wordless
Today’s storytellers are obsessed with lecturing the audience. Watch any network TV show and you’ll see not so thinly veiled references to current political events. That’s lazy, period. Compare that tactic to a potent scene late in “The Warriors.” Two young couples enter the subway car where the Warriors are seated. They’re either going to or coming from a dance, and they look picture perfect. They’re clearly uncomfortable sitting near the Warriors, and the feeling is mutual.
Is this a matter of privilege? Are the couples scared for their lives? It’s not clear. The tension certainly is, though, making the sequence both intriguing and impossible to decipher.