Seventh Son (2014) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington, Djimon Hounsou, Antje Traue
Director: Sergey Bodrov
Screenplay: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight (inspired by the novel, "The Spook's Apprentice", by Joseph Delaney)
Review published January 16, 2015
I'm not sure where along the line of Jeff Bridges' career he lost the ability to play something resembling an actual person, but I wish he would get back in touch with humanity again. His turn as Starman is more believable as a human than whatever goofy-voiced weirdo he's been channeling in his last three films -- R.I.P.D., The Giver, and Seventh Son. Is he trying to channel another big-screen representation of a mentor in The Empire Strikes Back's Yoda? He sure sounds more like that Frank Oz-voiced character than he does Jeff Bridges. It makes you wonder why, in this land where every other character has a relatively normal voice, people don't immediately call out his character as an overly exaggerated freak and pummel him on the spot.
Not that a fine performance could have saved Seventh Son from becoming a forgettable misfire that's too consummately bland and derivative to make any sort of impression on the audience, who will likely grow restless in their seats early and grow increasingly bored for the duration. It's amazing to see veteran screenwriters attached in Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond, K-Pax) and Steven Knight (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Locke), as this feels like a script hat was put together from a book of fantasy-film Mad Libs. These characters don't know how to have a basic conversation that isn't just a mawkish moment of a plot-pusher, so we only see them as means to and end instead of real personas that merit our connection to them.
Bridges plays a 'Falcon Knight' named Master Gregory (aka, The Spook), as this film is almost unrecognizably adapted from "The Spook's Apprentice", the first book in Joseph Delaney's "The Last Apprentice" series (aka "The Wardstone Chronicles" outside the U.S.). He's out to take down a master witch named Mother Malkin (Moore, Mockingjay Part I), who escapes his clutches to breed more evil across the land. Master Gregory takes apprentices under his wing -- the seventh sons of seventh sons (which is somehow a special thing in this story, in the umpteenth "Chosen One" YA storyline) -- but they usually just end up meeting a premature demise in his care. His latest is Tom Ward (Barnes, Voyage of the Dawn Treader), a teen who is trained to take down the witch and her coven, and while he might be the most promising of the apprentices to date, things get a bit dicey when the lad begins to have feelings for a lovely young witch named Alice (Vikander, The Fifth Estate). And they have only until the next full moon to put a stop to Malkin before their world turns to darkness for good.
Without interesting story elements, characters that rise above the thinness of the pages of the script they reside on, and with even quality actors (Moore is cast here on looks and name, which means it is a waste of her considerable acting talent) hell-bent on delivering anything but the most cartoonish examples of stock fantasy characters put to film, Seventh Son has only quality special effects to sell it, and that's just not enough in this day and age of CGI-infused blockbusters coming out every other weekend. You can't just show occasional battle sequences with shape-shifting creatures and expect us to be entertained these days; we need to understand these characters and their motivations, and believe in their causes, or, at least, know what they are before diving in.
That this film's release had been delayed over a year due to production problems (including a switch in studios) is not as big a surprise as that they did not take the time to fix the multitude of the film's many narrative problems in the interim, as it is astonishingly generic for movie that had so much invested in its casting and visual effects. Acclaimed Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol, Prisoner of the Mountains), working in his first English-language production, can't seem to get a handle on things in the interim, and the film is thinly held together by loud and destructive set pieces that are bridged by generic attempts to put together enough story to move its very elemental plot forward. It's about the most boring effort I've seen starring two A-list Academy Award winners in as far as I can remember.
The film is released in a post-converted 3D version, but, if you must see it, save yourself the money and go for traditional 2D. You'll spend more time taking your 3D goggles to look at your watch or cell phone than looking at whatever's appearing on the screen in this by-the-numbers action-fantasy adventure. Seventh Son is no seventh heaven.
©2015 Vince Leo