Action Adaptation

Film Review: Seventh Son

February 6, 2015Ben Mk


Dungeons, Dragons & Bridges...

This weekend marks the long-overdue release of two big budget, high-profile film projects. One is the Wachowski Siblings' $175 million former-2014-Summer-tentpole, the sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending. The other is the $95 million fantasy action-adventure Seventh Son, a movie adapted from Joseph Delaney's "The Spook's Apprentice". The book was the beginning of a thirteen-part series collectively known as "The Wardstone Chronicles", but does the film version — which stars Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Ben Barnes — have what it takes to ignite a big screen franchise?

   

Bridges plays the story's "spook", Master Gregory, a Falcon Knight and the people's first and last line of defense against the evil magic of the witches. Years ago, Gregory defeated the most powerful witch of them all, Mother Malkin (Moore). But instead of slaying her, he spared her life, entombing her in an iron dungeon for all eternity. Or so he thought. For with the blood moon on the rise, Mother Malkin's powers have returned, and she's escaped to wreak havoc on the lands once again.

When she claims the life of his faithful apprentice (Game of Thrones' Kit Harington), Gregory goes in search of his last best hope for a successor — the only remaining seventh son of a seventh son, a simple farmhand named Tom Ward (Barnes) — and together they embark on a journey towards Mother Malkin's mountaintop fortress, where Gregory hopes to vanquish the witch queen once and for all. Before they can do so, however, they'll have to contend with a menagerie of monsters and demons, including shape-shifting witches capable of transforming themselves into fearsome dragons, fierce cheetahs and vicious bears. Their mission is further complicated when Tom falls for a half-witch named Alice (Alicia Vikander), who also happens to be Mother Malkin's niece, and their relationship puts his allegiance to Gregory to the test.

Just as films like The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner all share the same cinematic mindset, Seventh Son makes no bones about drawing its inspiration from the heroic journeys that have come before it, such as the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings series. Yet, for the most part, director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan) and screenwriters Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Steven Knight (Locke) do little to distinguish their pic from its big screen brethren, serving up creatures, locales and character archetypes moviegoers have seen time and time again.

That's not to say the movie isn't without its highlights. Chief among them is Bridges' wise-cracking, squinty-eyed portrayal of the pointy-bearded Gregory. For though the actor is no stranger to playing the grizzled mentor to a young protégé — as he did in The Giver and TRON: Legacy — he still manages to find ways to imbue his character with a sense of fun, chewing through the scenery with a strange accent that sounds as if he's speaking with a mouthful of marbles. Likewise, Moore turns in a deliciously campy and over-the-top performance in this, her first major role as a villain. And she's clearly enjoying every moment of it, vamping it up like nobody's business.

However, despite their combined efforts, Bridges and Moore fail to counter the movie's more middling qualities, most notably the fact that Barnes doesn't make much of an impression as the titular character and that the solid supporting cast (which also includes Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Williams and Antje Traue) are given little to do. There's also the matter of the film's woefully unconvincing CGI, its uninspired battle sequences (nothing we haven't seen before in films like Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and clichéd dialogue that probably played better on-set than it does on-screen.

The film also leaves many stones unturned and many questions unanswered. For example, just what exactly makes a seventh son of a seventh son so unique? And just who are the Falcon Knights? In all likelihood, the filmmakers intended for these points to be addressed in future sequels. Ironically though, Seventh Son's prospects of seeing further big screen installments would have benefited greatly from some much-needed elaboration on the specifics. As it stands, its mythology is shallow at best, making the story — and the film itself — feel more generic than anything else.

The Bottom Line Seventh Son tries hard to be the next big fantasy franchise — à la The Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter — but aside from scene-stealing, scenery-chewing performances from Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, the filmmakers' ambitions are rarely ever matched by what we see on-screen. Instead, the film ends up being a middle-of-the-road action-adventure that really doesn't do much to build a case for a franchise. It's not a terrible film, just terribly forgettable.  Ben Mk





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