John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is the seventh son of a seventh son, and also the local spook, who’s protected his fellow citizens from the witches and ghouls that terrorize their land. However, Gregory better years are now behind him, and he needs a new apprentice to eventually take his place. Yet that has proven to be easier said than done for him
Enter Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), another seventh son of a seventh son, who’s the next apprentice to risk life and limb under Gregory’s tutelage. With Gregory’s old foe, the evil Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), returning to unleash her fury throughout the land, he has no longer than a week remaining before the next full moon to train Tom to battle the vengeful witch.
Out of all the postponed film’s that have finally been released this year so far, Seventh Son had the worst luck. Originally intended for release in February of 2013, Universal Pictures pushed the date back to October of 2013, only to then once again move the date back to January of 2014, due to the film’s production partner Legendary Pictures parting ways with Warner Bros. Then it was moved one last time to February of this year.
After such a long delay, Seventh Son boils down to one line in the film…
“I paid good money for you!” Okay, is it…
- Master Gregory angrily chiding his apprentice.
- The studio heads over at Universal Pictures responding in anger at the completed film.
- Moviegoers responding in anger at the completed film.
- All of the above.
Two-time Oscar-nominated director Sergei Bodrov has experience with historical epics (Prisoner of the Mountains and Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan), but doesn’t quite know what to do with Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight’s screenplay. To his credit, he has assembled a fine crew that includes three-time Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti and two-time Oscar nominated costume designer Jacqueline West, and in those areas, Seventh Son succeeds in capturing the epic scale that a story like this needs. Bringing on the Oscar-winning visual effects designer from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and Spider-Man 2 is certainly a plus, yet while not bad, the CGI here is really nothing special (the creature transformations, in particular, look hurried).
The technical aspects contain some fine elements, but at the end of the day, you can polish a turd ’til it shines like a diamond. You still have a turd, though.
Bodrov doesn’t deserve all the blame ’cause there’s plenty of it to go around, mainly with the script and the cast. Fantasy films provide a writer with a lot of artistic liberties, and as many as we’ve gotten since franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter became critical and financial successes, rehashing various story elements are inevitable. The problem is Leavitt and Knight put no effort into the writing. This is such a drab story that plods its way through each predictable plot point from beginning to end. Of course, I don’t need to be wowed with unpredictable turn after unpredictable turn (Paddington was very predictable but still managed to be a charming and fun film), but is it too much to ask for characters that aren’t as empty and lifeless as what we get here. On more than one occasion, opportunities for intriguing character dilemmas are presented, but Leavitt and Knight just waste each opportunity by broad stroking each conflict.
What really puzzles me is just how much involvement did Steven Knight have with this script? Last year, he gave us one of the best films of 2014 with Locke. He did so much with so little there, creating an intense situation out of what was nothing more than Tom Hardy driving a car. Plus, he gave so much depth to character we never once see, but only hear through Hardy’s phone conversations. His lack of effort here is perplexing.
Also not to be let off the hook is the supporting cast. There’s sleepwalking through your roles and then there’s comatose. Ben Barnes seems like a likeable guy, but he provides absolutely no spark or urgency to his character (in fairness to him, everyone else shares the same lack of concern over the fact that their country’s about to be destroyed). This is supposed to be a hero that has only a week to learn from Bridges what normally takes the other apprentices years, but judging from Barnes’s performance, I guess Tom Ward could care less. The one exception is Julianne Moore, who goes all-in as the evil witch Mother Malkin. The performance could’ve been better; not that it’s her fault, but Bodrov keeps hiding her behind all these CGI dragon transformations. While not a showy turn like what Susan Sarandon gave us in Enchanted or Meryl Streep in Into the Woods, Moore still appears to be having fun in a more dialed-down sinister way. I mean, for God’s sakes, someone has to in this film.
Plus, only an actress of her caliber could refer to eating blood cakes with worms and do so with a straight face.
As for Jeff Bridges, he’s a great actor and very few in his business can pull off transitioning between comedy, action, sci-fi, thriller and both low-key and intense drama as effectively as he has throughout his career. That said, I’ve been sick of that gurgling curmudgeon accent of his since The Giver, and here it’s actually worse than what he gave us in R.I.P.D.
Yeah, it’s that bad.
I don’t get why he keeps falling back on that schtick, and hey, if you can understand any of the indecipherable dialogue he’s uttering here, then good for you. I guess maybe since True Grit his contract demands stipulate he munch on an entire bag of caramel chews before performing a scene.
“We live in a world where blubba blubba blub blub blubba blubbity blub blub!!”
Jeff… El Duderino… seriously… you’re better than this.
Despite an earnest turn from Julianne Moore, providing way more gravitas than her vapidly drawn character deserves, Seventh Son is nothing more than a forgettable mash-up of nearly every fantasy epic that came before it. The costumes and production design are well done and a lively bit of action pops up once in a while, but between the empty characters, uninspired story and an overload of CGI that is only decent at best, the only thing viewers will take away from this film is that Jeff Bridges’s tired old coot schtick will just make them miss all his past great performances all the more.
I give Seventh Son a D+ (★½).