Any witch way, you lose
Release Date: 27 March
12A | 102 minutes Director: Sergei Bodrov Cast: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams
Some films emerge from
the depths of development hell shiny and refreshed, as though the time spent slumbering in limbo has energised them. And then there are movies such as Seventh Son, which arrives bearing the scars of years of studio fiddling and the scuffmarks of missing more than one release date. The veteran of several Comic- Con presentations, it was first pitched back in 2008 and has since been through any number of casting changes, weathering even the closure of effects house Rhythm & Hues. Handed over like a hot potato in the divorce between Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures to Legendary’s new home at Universal, it’s more likely to cause the wiping of brows in relief at its birthplace than dances of joy at its current residence.
Written seemingly by committee, the film adapts the first book of Joseph Delaney’s Wardstone Chronicles children’s series, The Spook’s Apprentice. Indeed, in an earlier incarnation, it still carried that name, along with Alex Pettyfer and Jennifer Lawrence in the cast. But those days are long gone, and now here comes Seventh Son.
The results are not great. Aiming itself as some sort of throwback to the ’ 80s heyday of cheesy/ great fantasy films such as Krull and Conan The Barbarian, Seventh Son introduces a Vaseline- smeared- lens world of medieval dirt and sub- Lord Of The Rings kingdoms. It’s a place still recovering from a terrible war with the witchy forces of darkness. Things have been relatively calm for years since the most powerful sorceress, Mother Malkin ( Julianne Moore) was helpfully locked away by Master Gregory ( Jeff Bridges), a veteran “Spook” or warrior against evil. Of course, nothing evil ever stays put forever and as the film opens, she escapes once more to cause havoc. And thanks to his disturbingly Spinal Tap- like propensity for losing apprentices to terrible fates ( Kit Harington, looking like he’d rather be back taking his chances on Game Of Thrones, is one such ill- fated wretch), Gregory has to recruit a new seventh son of a seventh son, in the shape of Ben Barnes’s Tom Ward.
So begins a witches’ brew of fantasy platitudes about unexpected heroes, searching within yourself for what you need to succeed, lovelorn destiny ( between Barnes and Alicia Vikander’s conflicted half- witch) and lots of talk about Blood Moons. There’s so much chatter about bloodrelated items from Moore, in fact, that you wonder whether she greets visitors to her fortress hideaway with blood tea and blood sandwiches. Portents are portentous, the villains’ henchmen ( and henchwomen) incredibly powerful and dangerous… until they’re not, and there are a lot of screaming villagers to get caught in- between this conflict between the light and the dark. Oh, and because it’s apparently de rigueur these days, there are scenes where castles and towns are liberally taken apart by giant creatures.
Despite a lot of proven acting talent on display, it never rises beyond the level of a pale, conventional fantasy narrative that’s been trotted out since time immemorial. Bridges at least sometimes seems to be having fun with Gregory, playing him as a cross between True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn and Catweazle, albeit with a voice that sounds more like Optimus Prime was brought in to do dubbing. Moore, meanwhile, relishes the chance to go full panto witch, all flowing robes and declarative statements, occasionally undercut by her full evil dark eyeliner making it appear she’s between costume changes as Batman. Yet even the idea of this as an unofficial Big Lebowski reunion for the usually charismatic pair doesn’t help boost the entertainment value.
Barnes, meanwhile, is saddled with the usual role of blandly heroic bloke trying to figure out his place in all this, and very little about Tom is all that interesting. Vikander has a little more to work with as Alice, torn between her mother’s support for
It really shouldn’t be this dull to watch dragons
Mother Malkin and her growing feelings for Tom, but though she’s handed one or two opportunities to be more than a damsel in distress, she’s probably hoping people skip over this entry on her CV as she appears in the far better likes of Ex_ Machina.
Director Sergei Bodrov tries to ape other, better magical movies, and goes heavy on the 3D angle, throwing everything from ghastly ghosts and flying spears to smoke and dragons at the audience in an attempt to keep our interest. But it becomes almost comical how desperate it all seems. Bodrov previously made Mongol: The Rise Of
Genghis Khan, which boasted accomplished swordfights and a healthy historical feel, which is probably what got him this job. It’s a shame, then, that the clashes in
Seventh Son feel more like playacting. The overcooked and occasionally deafening music from Marco Beltrami doesn’t help. It really shouldn’t be this dull to watch dragons flap around and various nasty creatures threaten our heroes, yet it is. Even the odd attempt to inject a little humour into proceedings fails to bring it to life.
There was possibly a good film to be made from Delaney’s book, but even with writers such as Locke man Steven Knight taking a crack, this isn’t it. There is, somewhat predictably, a lot of sequel bait left dangling as the credits roll, but it’s highly doubtful that anything will appear beyond the realm of direct- to- DVD follow- ups with increasingly cheap casting. Conveyor- belt filmmaking at its most basic level, Seventh Son wants to be seen as the next great fantasy franchise, but is more likely to be written off as a bad idea that will quickly be forgotten. James White
Frank unfortunately hadn’t got the “dress for the beach” email.