by Galen Knighthawke
Seventh Son had a lot going for it. It had an appealing cast. It had fantasy weapons that actually would work in a real medieval battlefield. (Well, most of them anyway.) If its swords clanged just from being moved, as is the case in too much fantasy even great fantasy like The Lord of the Rings, I missed it. (Seriously, swords should not make a clanging sound just from being moved around any more than guns should make the sound of a pump shotgun being cocked just by being drawn.) It had some good fight scenes. It had cool monsters. It had a surprisingly believable romance.
It had the fact that I was ready to see a well made epic, medieval fantasy that wasn't based on JRR Tolkien, and that actually WAS a traditional fantasy, and not another Game of Thrones-esque effort to make historical fiction, plus magic, except that the magic makes things worse for people instead of better.
And, finally, it had Jeff Bridges.
However, Seventh Son also had a lot against it. It relied very, very heavily on fantasy tropes I'm not sure I ever cared about and I surely don't care about now. (More on those later, one by one.) It took less care with world building than most Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters do. (Where, exactly, where the various cities, towns, isolated houses, and evil castle we visit, in relation to one another? I couldn't tell. Not one bit.) It gave Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame a glorified cameo instead of the major role his talent deserves. It had certain scenes which seemed blurry, probably because they were meant for 3d (and 3d sucks). It had what could have been hours of backstory and exposition squeezed into a few confusing minutes. (At its worst, the first 30 minutes of the film reminded me of parts of that Dungeons and Dragons movie starring Jeremy Irons as the villain, the movie that managed to combine being bad and forgettable.)
And, finally, it had Jeff Bridges. Jeff Bridges is a good actor who can at once be himself and be his part, a rare skill to be sure. But he can also be really annoying and, in this film, he's chosen to combine his parts from The Big Lebowski, True Grit, and The Men Who Stare at Goats into one, unholy combination, and the results are about as terrible as one might guess.
The plot of Seventh Son concerns a “spook,” played by Jeff Bridges, seeking out the seventh son of a seventh son to be his apprentice. A “spook” in this universe is neither an archaic racial slur nor a ghost but, rather, a combination knight, wizard, and witchfinder general (look up that term and be horrified) that slays evil monsters. Said seventh son of a seventh son, played by the ill-served Ben Barnes, predictably, is a young lad grown tired of his dull life and wishes to seek adventure. (Fantasy trope I don't care about number one: Incompetent young boy who discovers he has powers. Fantasy trope I don't care about number two: A seventh son of a seventh son? Really? When Iron Maiden makes an album about an idea, don't make a movie based on the same idea, no matter how good a book you have as your source material for the movie.)
Said seventh son of a seventh son also, despite a total lack of combat training for most of his life, can somehow become a master martial artist within a week. (Fantasy trope I don't care about number three: Instant warrior. Seriously, give him, at least, a training montage that consists of something other than talking. Imply he's learned the basics before discovering his falling and thus is starting from someplace. Example: Kingdom of Heaven, wherein the Orlando Bloom character appeared to know the basics of swordplay before the movie began, and thus was starting from someplace when he found his destiny. The trope of the instant warrior, noob to expert in 20 seconds, was trite and dumb 700 years ago, when certain medieval Arthurian stories used it, and time hasn't made it better.)
The villain these two will hunt is a witch, played by Julianne Moore who isn't better served by the material than is anyone in this movie, who years ago was imprisoned by the spook, but whose power recovered enough to escape the prison. It also turns out that the witch's evil may or may not owe something to earlier actions taken by the spook. And what's even worse? The fact that the movie seems to leave ambiguous whether or not the witch was evil before she was first challenged, and then later imprisoned, by the spook. (Fantasy trope I don't care about number four: Good guys who are dumb enough to think they can contain Ultimate Evil. A line from Austin Powers comes to mind: “[No, I'm not going to kill him,] I have an even better idea. I'm going to put him in an easily escapeable situation involving overly elaborate and exotic death.” Fantasy trope I don't care about number five: Good guys who make future bad guys through their own idiocy. Can't evil just be evil anymore?)
The witch also has a series of henchmen and henchwomen who, together, amount to a super villain convention, each with his or her own special power. (Fantasy trope I don't care about number six: The main villain having a series of henchmen and henchwomen who, together, amount to a super villain convention, each with his or her own special power.)
OK so.....Have I spoken enough about the plot to give you the basic idea of this film? Probably.
Then I'll talk about what really killed this movie, for me and that's the muddled beginning. If you spend enough time to make me care about the characters and the basic situation, I'll put up with an awful lot. I really will. I love fantasy and am a sucker for the same kind of tropes I have complained about in this review.
Seventh Son, however, has an opening 30 minutes that feels like it was either over-edited or under-edited depending upon your point of view. It begins with footage of the spook imprisoning the witch, then goes through footage establishing the spook as a drunk but a great fighter, shows us the spook losing his apprentice (thus setting up finding the other one, the one that's the focus of the film), and the two on their journey and being followed and some early adventures, and, and, and....And you get the idea. This stuff is shown to us in with the same breathlessness this paragraph was written in, and I had a hard time following it.
And, what's worse, it made me not care. The conventional fantasy tropes weren't a storytelling technique, but, rather, seemed lazy and dumb. Eventually, the film picked up. As stated, it has some good action scenes. Some good special effects. A believable romance. (I haven't gotten into who the romance was between, I know.) Characters I came to understand on some level and care about. I, finally, was carried along. After the first 30 minutes I finally found myself caring.
But, ultimately, this kind of movie rises and falls on its ability to carry me along from the get go. And it didn't. Maybe the film was 15 minutes or so too short, trying too hard to present too much material too quickly to get us to the action when it should've spent time making us care, earlier on. In essence, Seventh Son, trying to make sure we weren't overly burdened by caring about what happens, forgot that we kind of had to care in order to be able to put up with the kind of movie it was.
I still await a fantasy franchise that isn't JRR Tolkien based but, frankly, I despair for ever finding it. Seventh Son might've had its chance but it screwed it up badly.
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