Director: Sergei Bodrov
Cast: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Antje Traue, Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Williams, Jason Scott Lee, Kit Harington, Kandyse McClure
MPAA Rating: (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 2/6/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 5, 2015
Even before the movie introduces a stone of power that could give the villain an edge in her quest for world domination, it has become pretty clear that Seventh Son will offer nothing new to the table. The story is about a lowly pig farmer who becomes the apprentice of a drunken destroyer of the dark forces in the world. His mission is to stop an evil witch from unleashing destruction upon the world before the blood moon is full. There aren't many new things under the sun—or the blood moon, for that matter. The least—or maybe the most—we can ask of such routine adventures into some mythical land of mystical creatures, heroes, and villains is some kind of personality.
We get very little of that here, and most of it comes during the prologue. The movie opens with a sweeping shot that goes up and over a peak, upon which we discover a cloaked man fretting over a grate that covers a seemingly bottomless pit into the heart of the mountain. From within, we hear the screams of a woman begging for freedom that quickly become howling promises of doom for the man imprisoning her. The camera stays stationary as the solitary figure departs, and days become seasons, which become years in a rush of time as the grate becomes weather-worn with dents and rust.
Ten years have passed when we're first properly introduced to Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a "spook," in a tavern, where he seems more a part of the décor than a customer. Gregory gets into a fight with a man who doesn't appreciate his flippant response to the news of a young girl being possessed by some evil force. Gregory defeats the man with his mug of ale. It's not impressive that he beat the man with a cup, Gregory proclaims, but that he didn't spill a drop of liquor. He then dumps out the contents of the cup in an act of bravado that is as absurdly self-defeating as it is boastful.
There are many things to say about Bridges' performance here, and most of them won't sound complimentary. He doesn't seem to care, and it goes beyond the character's sense of superiority to everyone and everything around him. He chews on his lines as if they were particularly gristly chunks of mutton, and that renders the long list of characters and creatures that Gregory introduces into gibberish (more so than the list actually is).
In general, he's out of place among the rest of the cast and, indeed, the world of the movie itself. Bridges is operating in his own zone, but here's the thing: In these opening scenes, before we have any concept of what the other characters will be and do or what the world of the movie actually is, Bridges sets the tone. Perhaps it's not so much a matter that Bridges is out of place in the material as it is that the material and the rest of the cast have no idea how to keep up with him.
We get a confrontation between Gregory and Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the evil witch who has escaped her mountain prison to wreak havoc on the world. Malkin can transform into a dragon, and in human form, she wears a feathery cowl, dons gloves that become claws at the fingers, and possesses a tail that swings to and fro behind her. Moore has the same idea as Bridges when it comes to her character—albeit on a smaller scale. The two of them make the conclusion of the prologue into something that walks the line of camp, and the tension becomes waiting to see if either or both of them will cross it.
The prologue gets a thorough write-up here because it's really the end of the movie's capacity to hold much interest. Gregory's new apprentice is Tom Ward (Ben Barnes). He's the seventh son of a seventh son, which is a fact that is important in the same way that every other piece of the movie's mythology is important: It means something because the characters say it does without any further explanation from the screenplay by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight (based on Joseph Delaney's novel The Spook's Apprentice).
Tom and Gregory wander the realm searching for Malkin, and along the way, they do battle with a host of dark creatures (The visual effects are effective) and Malkin's lieutenants (who include Djimon Hounsou as a master of assassins, Jason Scott Lee as man who turns into a bear, Kandyse McClure as a witch who turns into a leopard, and Antje Traue as Malkin's witch sister who also becomes a dragon). Tom also falls in love with the pretty Alice (Alicia Vikander), a half-witch who's spying on Gregory for Malkin.
Bridges may seem bored with the material, but it's a definitive choice—a sort of existential boredom, as if he and the character are above such petty matters as witches and boggarts and dragons. Almost everyone else is just going through the motions, and so is the pedestrian Seventh Son.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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