The Warriors should be fucking ridiculous. Really look at any still from this movie, and you will see a bunch of skinny, half-naked backup dancers with giant hair trying to look hard as fuck in silly vests. It’s two steps away from being Tim Burton’s version of West Side Story, or Saturday Night Fever plus baseball bats. But for some reason, if those skinny backup dancers are standing in the blackest, dankest, dirtiest New York night with a pulsing, hypnotic seventies score behind them, they ARE hard as fuck, and you believe everything they say. The Warriors would murderize the Sharks and the Jets, and Maria would be so hot for Swan she’d forget all about Tony. The Warriors IS it’s atmosphere– the filthy dark city and that soundtrack are the extra members of the gang, and they are even meaner than Ajax. This is a movie with some pretty unsympathetic characters, a villain with no motivation, weak fight choreography, and plenty of plot holes, but you won’t give a shit while you’re watching it, because you’re gonna be too busy boppin’. The Warriors is as transporting a movie as exists, and everyone should see it.
Unless you’re reading this in the middle of the night in a filthy NYC neighborhood, with your huge hair tousled by the same wind that’s blowing trash around your ankles as you stare down a bunch of ugly kids in dirty T-shirts and bellbottoms, the plot of this film may not sound amazing. Like everything else about this movie, it needs to be hooked up to the setting and the soundtrack to give it life. The Warriors takes place over one night in the life of a Coney Island street gang. Falsely accused of killing a messianic gang over-boss, the gang spends the entire movie running for their lives as they try to get back to Coney Island while being pursued by every other gang in the city. Our heroes spend the entire movie fleeing and hiding, running from encounters with the many strange gangs that populate the New York night.
Having your heroes retreating nearly the entire movie is a strange choice, and the movie treats this motivation weirdly. For much of the film, most of the Warriors don’t even realize the other gangs are specifically targeting them– they don’t really know how dire their circumstances are. So why have that as motivation at all? Additionally, the real perpetrator of the crime the Warriors are accused of has NO REASON for doing what he did. “I just like doing stuff like that, man” he says, shortly before he is beaten to death for this crime. I suppose this can be written off as a statement on the senseless nature of the universe, but you’d think that a murder that serves as the central reason for everything that happens in the movie would have some kind of point. But let me be clear– this hole doesn’t matter to this movie at all. The Warriors rolls right over this without a bump, and while watching it, you’ll never stop hating the scumbag who pinned his crime on the Warriors or question the gang’s need to get back to Coney. You’ll just hear the clanking of those subway trains and that keening music and you’ll wish you could see Ajax beat up some more Furies, the wimps
Ajax is the loud talking, tough punching “problematic” Warrior mentioned earlier. He’s so mean and so ready to fight that you can’t help but like him initially , but he’s not a nice person, and when he’s finally arrested, I can’t help but think the streets of NYC are better off. I guess we can write off Ajax’s repeated use of the word “faggot” as an artifact of this movie’s release date, but his attempted rape of a lady in the park isn’t so forgivable. The other Warriors advise him against doing so for pragmatic reasons– I don’t recall any of them suggesting that raping someone is wrong. Even though Ajax gets his just desserts, I think that makes it a little harder to root for the gang. The film is kind of harsh on women overall, with Warrior war chief Swan condemning the only principal female character Mercy as a slut, and an encounter with an all-female gang that are implied to be lesbians. It’s also worth noting that in the book the movie is adapted from, the Warriors are all black.
Despite my grousing (the fight with the Furies is super slow and ridiculous, there, I’m really done) this movie is filled with great little moments, such as Swan preventing Mercy from fixing her hair as they stare down some more affluent kids, or the face of the leader of the Orphans as he’s manipulated into a fight he clearly wants no part of. The pageantry of the gangs –There must be some part of the human psyche that gets off on bands of people in brightly colored uniforms pummeling each other, because it would explain the NFL, war, and why The Warriors is great. The Warriors’ easy dialogue and attitude with each other feels natural and right, and the feeling of relief when the gang walks onto the Coney Island beach is palpable. But I honestly don’t think any of that matters. This movie’s combination of setting and soundtrack is so powerful I would forgive anything it did. Just sit down and watch the opening credit sequence, with gangs wearing every conceivable kind of uniform jumping onto subway trains in the night while that crazy seventies music blares, and you will dig it.