Sev­enth Son

Any witch way, you lose

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Cinema -

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.

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