|Father Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is having a difficult day.|
Starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Kit Harrington, Alicia Vikandor
Written by Steven Knight, Charles Leavitt
Based on the novels 'The Spook's Apprentice' by Joseph Delaney
Directed by Sergei Bordov
2015, 102 mins., Rated PG-13
Not long after Peter Jackson made sword and sorcery(ish) epics cool with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I was in the camp of folks who thought that all types of films like those -- with wizards, dragons, monsters, eclipse Armageddons, gods, etc. -- should be dark, serious, and above all, epic. Years later, when the Ray Harryhausen classic CLASH OF THE TITANS was remade with Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson as Zeus and one killer kick-ass Kraken, I went in with the expectation the material would be handled seriously, and the movie would be amazing. I was wrong on both accounts. CLASH OF THE TITANS, the remake, was all about action. Gravitas and nuance was third to action and special effects. Nothing mattered other than making things look cool. For me, it was a devastating missed opportunity.
I say all this, because that hard blow in many ways made films like SEVENTH SON easier to swallow and accept instead of being hit with overwhelming disappointment. Up front, I'll mention that I never read the books this film is sourced from, but if I were a fan of those novels, I imagine this adaptation would be quite the disservice. Probably DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION level of terribleness. A lot of this feels extremely loosely based off the series. But that's beside the point. The point is this: I look at SEVENTH SON as a wonderful, playful throwback to the sixties and seventies, when we had action/adventure fantasy movies. Specifically, I'm thinking of the SINBAD trilogy. SEVENTH SON is a homage to those type of flicks -- or rather, it would fit so well into those classification of movies of that time period. It's just fun. A paint-by-the-numbers plot with largely unimpressionable characters and so-so special effects. They're not trying for serious, or epic, or anything necessarily great. Just sit back, have a good time, and enjoy this fantasy throwback to a time where these type of films were everywhere in cinema chains.
SEVENTH SON has something to do with kids who are born the seventh son of a seventh son having abilities of some sort. Father Gregory (Bridges) is a old, wise(ish) wizard who recruits Tom (Barnes) to stop Malikin (Moore), a shape-shifting evil badass sorceress who intends on destroying the world and ruling it with her evil minions. Right about now is where the end tag announcer from the BATMAN '66 series would say, 'can Father Gregory and Tom beat Malikin in time? Will the earth be enslaved by monsters? Find out next week, same mage time, same mage channel!' Or something like that.
To put it bluntly, no, SEVENTH SON is not a good movie. Acting is subpar, at best. Jeff Bridges is hardly comprehensible as Father Gregory, choosing an accented voice spoken through lips that seem sown together. Or perhaps it's his gigantamous beard and facial hair that's blocking the words from escaping his mouth. Either way, there really oughta be a subtitle option when he's speaking. No doubt about it, this is a paycheck gig for Jeff Bridges, and his performance reflects that commitment. Ben Barnes was really impressive in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN, channeling the right amount of princely valor, charm, and acting talent. Here, there's not a ounce of that skill on display. He lumbers through each scene, makes out with a hot chick (in the most entertaining subplot of the film, mage & witch love: can they be together when one's a hunter and one's the thing they hunt?), and resorts to a dead plan, dead-eyed glaze. As a hugely underdeveloped badass witch, Julianne Moore's Malikin fares the best, but only because she hams up the screen so totally committed, it's spectacular to watch. She's having fun, and I'm having fun right there with her.
The script could use, at minimum, ten more drafts. Iron out details about this world's rules, creatures, and words, improve the dialogue, and just improve the basic framework of the movie at least. All this 'seventh son' business is explained in one throwaway line, but it would be mighty preferable for some time devoted to explaining the mystical power behind it. Backstory and histories are brought up very late in the game, adding little emotional value to certain scenes when, if such details were revealed earlier, it would have helped considerably. The relationships between Father Gregory and Milikan, and Tom and (witch) Alice (Vikandor) are awkward at best, and could use refining to spice up their scenes, perhaps make up for the lack of chemistry between any of these actors.
For me, the real highlight of SEVENTH SON, and the aspect that makes me the most giddy, are the monsters. Look at the photo above, Father Gregory face to face with this giant green lizard creature (played by Djimon Honsou in human form). That's the type of cool shit a monster-loving fan like myself has a field day over. And check out the photo below, with the four-armed badass ready to take down some opponents. For years I've watched ambitious yet poorly down battles of the protagonist vs. multi-limbed monster variety, and they've been disappointing. Not SEVENTH SON. No. These fights are spectacular. Those arms work in perfect unison, and the fight choreography with all four is expedient and lethal. Finally, the four-armed foe realized in all of his magnificent glory!
Ultimately, if one does enjoy those sword-and-sorcery fantasy epics from the sixties and seventies, and walk into SEVENTH SON with that mindset, the film's a blast. It really, properly is. If you go in with the mentality that this is a $95 million dollar movie produced with the intent of being something like 'the next big thing' with glamorous special effects and a built-in fanbase with the hopes and dreams of a multi-film franchise deal hanging in the balance, than this movie is quite the clusterfrak. For all its poor writing, incomprehensible performances, and occasionally lavish special effects, SEVENTH SON is fun. As it's now out of the theatrical circuit, give it a look-see when it hits DVD/Blu-Ray. For me, this was a fun, nostalgic trip to a time long ago when fantasy adventures were all the rage.