– Summary –
Director : Sergei Bodrov
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Kandsye McClure, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee.
Approx Running Time : 102 Minutes
Synopsis: When Mother Malkin, the queen of evil witches, escapes the pit she was imprisoned in by professional monster hunter Spook decades ago and kills his apprentice, he recruits young Tom, the seventh son of the seventh son, to help him.
What we think : Fair-effort sword-n-magic adventure sees plenty of heavy-handed posturing, a weak-ass villainess, and a romantic interlude that is less convincing than a Kardashian wedding. Seventh Son has a nice amount of story to its bones, yet fumbles the ball unimaginably badly at times, leaving me wondering whether this was supposed to be a comedy, a parody, or some kind of One True Hero homage that misses the mark.
Seventh son, second best.
Seventh Son has some mighty problems to contend with, including inadequate screen villainy by a normally excellent Julianne Moore, a mumbling, nigh-unintelligible performance by Jeff Bridges, and a blink-an-miss-it extended cameo by Game Of Thrones hunk Kit Harington. Not to mention the dialogue: ugh, the dialogue, most of which is tin-eared and smothered in ye-olde-worlde phrasing and delivery, clatters about the screen like a dervish in search of a whirl. Seventh Son’s literary DNA is reduced to – and perhaps I’m being too kind, I know not – almost a Van Helsing level of inept plotting and generic, utterly preposterous characters and landscapes. Whatever positive words I might have had for the film evaporated quickly, as Jeff Bridges’ growling Master Gregory scoured the land to rid it of all the dark creatures lurking in the shadow; Seventh Son is thunderously, tragically, over-the-top.
Bridges plays resident ghoul hunter Master Gregory, often referred to in the film as “a spook”, perhaps a reference to the CIA-esque activities he engages in. Hunting down demons, ghosts, devilspawn and witches, and either incarcerating or exterminating them depending on their level of danger, Gregory’s main mission is the capture and killing of the evil Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a powerful with who threatens to turn the world into darkness as she seeks revenge on… well, someone. Gregory’s previous apprentice, Billy (Kit Harington) is killed during an attempt to capture Malkin, leading Gregory to recruit a new underling – he discovers Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), living with his mother (Olivia Williams), and is the seventh son of a seventh son, making him the rightful recruit for the job. Battling evil with Gregory, Tom meets a witch, Alice (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of Bonny (Antje Traue), who happens to be the witchy sister of Malkin, making her family. Tom and Alice fall in love, leading – naturally – to a conflict of interest between the two, one which will have a major effect on Tom’s ability to help Master Gregory.
Seventh Son is laughably bad. Not from a production standpoint, however: composer Marco Beltrami’s score is epic and large, legendary production designer Dante Ferreti’s work is stunning to say the least, and the CG effects are no worse than the Scorpion King’s was in final act of The Mummy Returns…. okay, that last one was pretty shit. The film’s large budget – some $90+ million – seems to be entirely up on the screen, in a kinda low-rent Lord Of The Rings vista with often clunky visual effects that don’t convince. But it’s the story and the character I found too dull to warrant investing in. And that’s a major failing for this movie.
At its core, Seventh Son is your typical Chosen One Overcoming The Monster lark, a mix of The Matrix (with Tom representing Neo’s hitherto unknown backstory and powers), Van Helsing (with Bridges playing the role of the iconic vampire hunter as he slays the various demons walking the Earth), a smidge of Romeo & Juliet (with Tom and Alice being lovers who will forever be torn apart since they’re supposed to be sworn enemies), and dash of The Mummy. Taking itself perhaps a tad too seriously more often than not, Seventh Son’s loud, abrasive directorial mantra appears to be to swathe the film in darkness and shadow, offer almost no plot twists to speak of, and have characters flip-flop between loyalties with barely a passing thought. It’s not that helmer Sergei Bodrov doesn’t muster up some decent work – a sequence involving a massive giant Boggart (didn’t they have them in Harry Potter?) and Tom’s waterlogged fight to the death is especially memorable, even though it doesn’t make much difference to the actual story – but the film has inconsistent tone, wavers in its depiction of violence, and wastes an otherwise superb cast.
Leaving Daniels and Moore aside for a moment, let’s consider the rest of the fine faces adorning this hodge-podge of magic, witchcraft and Knights Of The Round Table nonsense. Ben Barnes, best known for his portrayal of Prince Caspian in the Narnia films, makes for a handsome, occasionally inept leading character, and while he’s largely saddled with the mother of all Origin Stories, he still brings a certain fun to the never-ending darkness. His on-screen romantic interest, Alicia Vikander (The Fifth Estate, Ex Machina, The Man From UNCLE) is just gorgeous, providing her role of the confused and uncertain Alice with enough inner turmoil, grace and fragility to imbue her with emotional weight. It helps than her chemistry with Barnes is palpable, even when they’re forced to deliver some truly odious “romantic” dialogue. One-time female sidekick to Robert Langdon (the Dan Brown character) Antje Traue, is wasted as Malkin’s sister, Djimon Hounsou fills in time between his Guardians Of The Galaxy job and whatever he’s up to next as a blank-slate assassin character, while Olivia Williams does more with her limited screen time here than most of the rest of the cast combined.
The most egregious waste of celluloid in the film comes in the form of the normally reliable Julianne Moore, as the evil Melkin. Moore’s role is simply to look and sound evil – a bit like Charlize Theron in that Snow White movie – but actually can’t achieve much at all. She’s a “minion organizer”, a character who spends more time acclimating her dark forces to her plan than she does actually executing that plan. Moore seems to be having fun, but her character is a confusing mish-mash of genre archetypes and silly CG – turns out, her monster form is a dragon – and she’s given naught but sod all to do until the screen pairs her with former Big Lebowski alum, Jeff Bridges.
Ahh, Bridges. How the man has become a caricature of his own demise. Echoing a similarly toned role in the execrable RIPD, Bridges mumbles his way through this movie with the most astonishingly dire accent, and a focus on pulling as many faces as he can beneath that over-arched mustache and pointed fanny-tickler he calls a beard. Although he’s supposedly a “tough mother f@cker” the film, the actor, nor director Bodrov, can concoct any reason as to why we, the audience, might give a crap. Bridges seems to be making fun of us for taking him seriously, and that rankles me a bit. His character is poorly developed, lacks grace or nuance (that I could see), and although he might be the star of the book series this film is based on, there’s little left I cared about whilst watching Bridges make a mockery of his career yet again. Obviously, The Dude never watched RIPD back to see how far he’d fallen.
Seventh Son is hopelessly bipolar in tone and narrative engineering. On the one hand, it stumbles through cliche and convention, bordering on generic join-the-dots material you can spot coming a mile off. On the other, Bodrov does provide some nice visuals (although kudos should probably go more to Ferreti than anyone else) and at least it doesn’t slow down for any extended period of time. The monsters are cheesy and trite, if not altogether horrible, and the story is more set-up for a series of increasingly frantic sequels than a story in its own right. If you’re after an undemanding beer-n-pizza night, you’ll do worse than having this to laugh at with your mates. Expect much more, you’ll want to find your own Boggart and get it to pound in your skull.