Movies are an enigma. Some have the ability to captivate you from the first image or piece of dialogue; some take longer to find an audience, needing time to build a relationship with you; and still others are so far removed from being engaged, you can barely stay awake as you wonder what else you’d rather be doing than watching the train wreck in front of you. And previews aren’t necessarily an indication as to which category a film might fall. I’ve seen some dreadful previews for movies that turned out to be stellar pieces of cinema and vice-versa, so until you actually see the movie, you just never know. It’s one reason why I see so many movies, including Seventh Son, a film that by its trailer looked like it might be a dud, but one I hoped its cast would be able to save. Sadly, it acted more like an Ambien than a shot of adrenaline.
It wasn’t even a third of the way in when I had to ask myself how in the world the producers found a way to talk such stalwarts as Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore to star in this (not to mention how they acquired such visibly high production values and special effects budget) — and how I might be able to manufacture such a coup for my own films. It’s not the premise itself that’s bad (per se), it’s the amateurish writing (and I’m guessing the depressingly bad adaptation of Joseph Delaney’s novel, The Spook’s Apprentice, which I have not even heard of, let alone read) that sinks this ship before it even sets sail.
There’s something to say about exposition. Yes, when done poorly, it can feel forced and blatant, but when done well, its subtlety can mask its appearance. Whichever it might be, there at least has to be some exposition to create a coherent, believable world, especially when you’re creating that world from scratch. With Seventh Son, there are so many unanswered questions it felt as if I walked into the sequel to some movie that only existed in someone else’s head. Either that, or screenwriters Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight relied too heavily on everyone having read the book before seeing the movie and decided any amount of explanation wasn’t worthwhile.
The actor’s don’t help matters, either. Bridges has been a respected actor for several decades, having been nominated for over fifty awards (his first being for The Last Picture Show in 1972). In recent years, though, as old men tend to do, Bridges has grown quite ornery, and has infused all of his characters with this hardened, rough and gruff attitude, which in most cases isn’t a problem because he can still act circles around most of his co-stars, taking home his first Oscar in 2010 for his role in Crazy Heart. However, as Master Gregory, a “spook” whose sole purpose is to fight and extinguish dark entities — such as witches, ghouls and monsters — from the world, Bridges becomes a parody of the persona he himself created. He fumbles around like he’s tired of doing the same old schtick and doesn’t find any challenge in it anymore. Even when he tries to be interested, he just comes off as aloof and misguided, unsure of what’s going on around him. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Moore does her best evil snake impression as Mother Malkin, Master Gregory’s main adversary, but other than juicing up the proceedings by going against type, her hand at pure evil does nothing to bring anything new or relevant to the table.
Then, of course, there’s Ben Barnes as Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son (a significance that seems to be common knowledge of the people inside this world, but is never once explained to us muggles) who is destined to become the spook’s apprentice. Looking like the love child of Aaron Eckhart and Wes Bentley, Barnes goes along for the ride as best he can, displaying a mix of Eckhart’s fiery charm while staying as cold and calculating as Bentley. Yet, there is a major flaw in his character — for supposedly being “the one” who will eventually take over for Master Gregory, the one thing that makes him special above all other potential apprentices (two of which came and died before him) isn’t revealed until nearly the end of the second act, before which he’s given credit for killing the unkillable when he didn’t even have a hand in doing so, and endures training that’s basically non-existent, which makes it hard to believe that he could ever live up to his own hype. And when he does find out what makes him so special, he’s able to suddenly rise up and defeat his much more powerful adversaries. Then again, based on the climactic(?) battle sequence, dispatching the enemy didn’t need all that much training to begin with.
For the majority of the film, we’re led to believe that not only is Mother Malkin the most powerful creature to ever walk the land (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but she sure struts her stuff as if she is), but that her cohorts in crime — a bevy of witchy shapeshifters — are just as powerful. (One of these is played by Djimon Hounsou, who was poised to become a tremendous actor but never found a solid consistency in choosing roles.) However, each one is dispatched with such ease, it’s hard to imagine how any of them could have lasted as long as they have. And given that Mother Malkin is weakened, not by any of our main characters, but by a completely separate side-story that has as much build-up as a sandcastle, we’re left with nothing to react to but lazy execution — which includes two supposed love stories that never quite hold up within the narrative.
The first belongs to Ward and Alice (Alicia Vikander), who acts as a spy to watch over Ward and Master Gregory so as to keep them from stopping Mother Malkin from doing whatever it is she’s planning once the red moon hits its pinnacle — a plot point that is horribly overlooked; how exactly are we supposed to care about her defeat unless we know exactly what she’s planning? Alice eventually falls for Ward, and though both Vikander and Barnes do their best impression of being in love, that’s all it ever really is. The same can be said for the underwhelming back story between Master Gregory and Mother Malkin, which eventually leads to the opening sequence of his trapping her in a hole for centuries. Their entire history is glossed over as if it doesn’t matter one iota to the story, never once allowing it to breathe any additional life into the characters. By the time the film reaches its climax, it feels as if the writers had forgotten the two even had any sort of personal history, much less a fully realized story with characters that would keep us all entertained (and awake) for even five minutes.
My Grade: D
Next week, new movies include Fifty Shades of Grey, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.