Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the past few weeks binge-watching “Game Of Thrones” all the way from Robert Baratheon pitching up at Winterfell to Bran Stark finally reaching the Weirwood Tree home of the Three-Eyed Raven, so the bar for sword and sorcery was set pretty fucking* high when I went to see “Seventh Son”.
When a long-imprisoned witch Mother Malkin escapes from captivity, veteran Spook (demon hunter) Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) must track her down and kill her before the imminent blood moon returns her full power to her. When his apprentice is killed during the initial skirmish, he recruits Tom (Ben Barnes), the seventh son of a seventh son, to be his new apprentice and aid in defeating the witch once and for all.
For such an unreconstructed B-movie, this film has certainly managed to attract an impressive cast. I hadn’t really looked into the cast before I sat down to watch it so Kit Harrington’s cameo appearance as Master Gregory’s apprentice came as a bit of a surprise. John Snow may know nothing, but he knew enough to bail out on this half-cooked turkey at the first opportunity, leaving his master to find a new sidekick. Ben Barnes makes for a suitably generic hero figure, although someone should check his attic to see if there’s a grotesque painting of him stashed away, because not only has he not aged, he looks even younger than he did in 2008’s “The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian”.
But Tom didn’t choose the Spook life, the Spook life chose him and so we are required to watch him dutifully trudge along the well-trodden hero’s journey of lowly farmboy discovering his destiny under the tutelage of a wise old mentor. Admittedly, Jeff Bridges plays the gruff, curmudgeonly warrior mentor character in a uniquely bonkers way, oscillating wildly between grimly portentous and flamboyant parody. His dialogue is delivered in a bizarrely accented fashion reminiscent of someone who’s affixed their upper dentures with peanut butter and the only reasonable explanation for a performance which brings to mind the Grail Knight from the end of “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade” as interpreted by Keith Lemon, is that someone bet him he couldn’t come up with something even more unhinged than his turn in “R.I.P.D.”
Having recently won an Oscar for her work in “Still Alice”, the last thing Julianne Moore needed was for this pulpy nonsense to tarnish her CV but, to give her her due, she tackles the melodramatic theatricality of it all with a certain relish and, at times, seems to be the only one actually enjoying herself. Her henchmen on the other hand, Djimon Hounsou especially, seem more focussed on picking up their paychecks and getting the hell out of there. Even Alicia Vikander, so radiant and commanding in “Ex Machina” struggles to make an impact amongst the CGI and lavish costumes.
Unfortunately, even the high quality cast can’t make up for the fact that this is yet another Young Adult adaptation that fails to disguise its origins’ derivative and unoriginal nature. Visually, its reminiscent of such classics as “The Beastmaster” and the old Sinbad movies, making you yearn nostalgically for a bit of Ray Harryhausen stop motion magic instead of the impressively polished but personality-free CGI creatures which plague our heroes whenever the story runs out of steam.
Director Sergei Bodrov does a decent job but he can’t quite make the forets and mountains of Canada look as cinematic as “Game Of Thrones” makes Northern Ireland look and the sweeping vistas of New Zealand’s Middle Earth are completely beyond the work here. The script is choppy and uneven, bearing all the hallmarks of beign a longer work which was cut down considerably on the page and then patched together in the edit. Even the finale is a bit of a limp let down, despite most of the film being about how it will be nearly impossible to defeat Mother Malkin, it all happens with the ease and anti-climax using the cheat code for god-mode.
Taken as a Saturday matinee-style B-movie from a bygone era brought up to date, it’s actually not too bad but unfortunately it goes out of its way to petulantly alienate what should be its target audience by including a gratuitous and entirely unnecessary f-bomb quite early on (*so I allowed myself one too). I’m sorely tempted to use another.