Title: Seventh Son
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Writers: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight, and Matt Greenberg (based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice (titled The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in America) by Joseph Delaney)
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Starring: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Kit Harington, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee
Release Date: February 6, 2015
MPAA: Rated PG-13
It’s a slow start this year for comic book movies. But one nearly unopposed truth is this: comic book fans also enjoy a rollicking sci-fi or fantasy adventure. And in the long wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron in May, we’ll be taking a look at some non-comic book movies that you might enjoy, and playing catch-up with some comic book movies not yet reviewed. This week we’re going to look at one such non-comic book movie that I think you all should take a look at. It’s one that practically nobody bothered to see, and the few that did see it apparently didn’t enjoy it. A murky little gem that’s really rough around the edges by the name of Seventh Son.
If your enjoyment of this movie depends on it being an adaptation that remotely resembles the book (or subsequent series of books) it’s based on, I suggest you stop watching it now. Expecting an adaptation to adhere to the source material is a valid concern, and one that I often present for my usual displeasure with unfaithful adaptations. That being said, I feel there’s a good reason the title of this movie has no resemblance to the title of the books. It takes the premise, a chosen hero who is also the seventh son of a seventh son who battles evil witches and other monstrous creatures, and that’s it. If you enjoy an action-packed fantasy adventure with some fun dialogue and entertaining characters, you’ll want to check this one out. Is it great? Hell no! Is it terrible? Not at all. On a sliding scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the likes of In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and 10 being the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, this movie falls somewhere just above average, nowhere near as good as Willow, but far better than the Dungeons & Dragons film series.
Now, you’re probably thinking; “with that GLOWING review, who wouldn’t want to see this movie”. “It’s not bad” isn’t high praise, to be sure, and I can’t deny that the movie isn’t all that great. However, the real reason to watch this movie, and the reason I will try to get as many people to see this as possible is a simple one. It features not only a primarily female cast, but these characters are strong and surprisingly decently developed.
How many sci-fi/fantasy or sword-and-sorcery movies can you think of that have that going for them? I’ll wait. Shockingly low numbers, right?! Even sci-fi/fantasy films like Star Wars that feature the awesome Princess Leia, who kicks a lot of butt usually feature her as a helpless damsel more often than the heroine. Usually these sorts of movies feature damsels-in-distress. Or they decide that the only way to make a woman tough is to strip away anything feminine (Vasquez in Aliens), make them uber-feminist man-haters (Wonder Woman or Red Sonja), or laughable one-note tough bitches (Rain in Resident Evil). Here, not only do the female leads outnumber the male leads two-to-one, but they’re all relatable, interesting characters. The villainous Mother Malkin (Moore) of the film and the seemingly most dangerous and powerful person in this world is female and –
— the character that is actually responsible for saving the day is one of the supporting female leads, not our two male heroes –
I feel, for that reason alone, this movie should be seen by as everyone.
The actors, whether trying to bring a subdued, natural performance or hamming it up and chewing the scenery, are all thoroughly enjoyable. Julianne Moore is a terrific hammy villain, overacting in the vein of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Jeff Bridges’ Gregory chews more scenery than Kevin Spacey and William Shatner combined. And it’s all in good fun. Thirty-something Ben Barnes is playing the seventeen year old Tom, and is mostly convincing in his attitude and demeanor. And again, we come to the supporting female cast, who all deliver solid performances, whether they be loving self-sacrificing mothers or emotionally conflicted would-be companions-in-arms, they all handle their with a grounded realism that really anchors a movie already careening toward the overly absurd.
The visual effects are all rather spectacular, sporting impressive detail from saliva dripping from dragon teeth to moss growing on the back of a monstrous giant seemingly born from the earth itself. Modern movies utilize CGI the way older movies utilized stop-motion animation, and neither is truly more realistic than the other. But greats like Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien would include little details in their stop-motion effects, like the ruffling of fur as Mighty Joe Young moved its limbs or cracks in the bones of the Skeleton Warriors. It’s the inclusion of little details that help bring the unbelievable and fanciful to life. And this movie is full of those little details.
The production design is rather wonderful, from the sets to the costuming. The faux-medieval setting looks great, featuring sprawling castles carved out of the mountainside and grungy farming towns full of peasantry and bustling dirty street markets. Nothing by way of set design to put this fantasy film above its bigger-budgeted brethren like Lord of the Rings but surprisingly not as noticeably green-screened as The Hobbit. The real praise comes by way of the costumes. Every character has a distinct look and has multiple outfits throughout the story (something that you wouldn’t think would be an issue until you consider just how many movies feature characters that never change clothes during the course of their journey).
Earlier, I mentioned that this film is careening toward the overly absurd. The high level of absurdity is brought about in equal parts by the stereotypical good-versus-evil story and star-crossed lovers plot and Gregory’s bizarre voice and dialect. I don’t know what voice Jeff Bridges was going for, but it’s extremely ridiculous, at times for the better when it’s amusingly quirky and at times for the worse when he mumbles lines more than Christian Bale’s Batman. And let’s not forget that generic plot I just mentioned. We’ve got an evil baddie hell-bent on destroying/conquering the world at any cost. There’s a chosen one that must rise to the occasion. There’s an all-powerful MacGuffin that the good guys and bad guys both want to keep from the other. Our star-crossed lovers couldn’t be more star-crossed if they tried. Tom is part of a clan of monster-slayers intent on slaying all witches and our love-interest Alice is a witch forced to work for the queen of evil witches intent on killing all mankind. It’s fantasy Romeo & Juliet, ladies and gentlemen.
As a side-observation, on the subject of the goofy character Master Gregory; his bizarre mumbling actually serves as a strong bit of characterization as his past transgressions have left him angry, guilt-ridden and partially insane and his main source of relief from his troubles is to drink, often. And in his muttering drunkenness he delivers the two best lines of the film: one about his flask and the other wherein he earns the films PG-13 rating, dropping the only F-Bomb in the movie.
Generic plot points and goofy bits of overacting aside, the movie is still damn enjoyable and unexpectedly compelling. Bridges’ Gregory is charismatic and captivating; and thank god for that considering the last time he played a funny-voiced veteran training a rookie we got the atrocious R.I.P.D. and that need never happen again. Julianne Moore’s Malkin is mesmerizing and tragic. Tom’s mother (Olivia Williams) and Alice’s Mother (Antje Traue) give engaging and convincing performances with what little screen-time they have. And what amounts to little more than extended cameos from our villainous henchmen (Hounsou and Lee) are nonetheless welcome as entertaining performances.
Featuring a clichéd plot may be the major problem with this movie, but what it does with the plot and how it presents the characters this plot revolves around raises this film above the mediocre drivel it could have been. While not an amazing film, it’s astonishingly quite good, and deserves far more praise than it has received thus far. Hopefully in time, people will recognize it for what it does right and in the future, other better films can build on what Seventh Son has to offer. I say Seventh Son earns a decent score of 7 out of 10.