Director: Sergei Bodrov (2015)
A young pig farmer is taught to battle supernatural forces in this ploddingly derivative fantasy adventure.
A bombastic score can’t drown out laughable dialogue while eccentric and uneven performances wrestle with a dull script.
In an unspecified medieval country, seventh son of a seventh son Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) lives a humble life on a remote lakeside farm.
He suffers premonitions which give a glimpse of what the film holds for us but don’t benefit him in any way.
One day a Spook (witch-hunter) called John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) arrives to buy Tom from his family to serve as an apprentice. Before Tom leaves, his Mam (Olivia Williams) gives him a medallion.
In Gregory’s hideaway full of weapons and potions – like a medieval Bat-cave – Tom learns the names of a lot of useful sounding potions and how to throw a knife.
He also nicks a joke from James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven – which turns out to be the best joke in this film.
Tom discovers Gregory is the last in a line of an order of Knights called the Falcons – which makes them sound like a witch-hunting Rugby Club.
Meanwhile the evil shape-changing queen witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) has escaped the pit Gregory had nailed her inside. She wants revenge and to rule the world.
In seven days there’s a one-in-a-hundred-years blood moon whose mystic powers will make Malkin unstoppable. I’m still not sure why.
Tom and Gregory are assisted by the indestructible and much maligned manservant Tusk (John DeSantis). This loyal and hard-working creature is the butt of a cruel running gag about his looks.
The only other humour comes from Bridges habitually boozing. There are only so many jokes you can steal from a classic Western after all.
En route to thwart Malkin they meet the comely Alice (Alicia Vikander) who is accused of being a witch. She looks fetching in leather trousers and makes a pretty pair with Barnes, even if they struggle to establish a rapport.
With a young apprentice called to adventure by a magi to rescue a princess, this is a sorry trudge through the familiar tropes of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The bones of the perfunctory plot are fleshed out with impressive CGI and weighty production design. ‘Legends and nightmares are real’ claims Gregory.
But due to the lack of rounded characters or careful crafting of a convincing universe, we never engage with the story.
It can’t be bothered to invent it’s own encompassing mythology. A ghast is called a level six creature as if this was a game of Dungeons and Dragons – but who knows what the other levels are.
There’s no attempt to fill in cultural details such as history, geography or language. Plus a lack of place names and no relationship between locations.
The major conurbation is ‘The Walled City’. It’s two days travel from somewhere but we’re never told where. There’s no coherent sense of distance or time. Everyone simply moves and arrives.
Bridges delivers a wildly eccentric performance, pitching his accent somewhere between Tom Hardy as Bane in the The Dark Knight Rises and Sean Connery in anything – though most likely The Name of the Rose.
Julianne Moore is distracted or possibly bored. When she and Bridges square off I giggled at the memory of their appearance in 1998’s The Big Lebowski – particularly the Gutterballs scene. It’s more fun and inspired than anything here.
Assassins and inquisitors rub shoulders in the shabbily thought out mythology. There’s lots of sword fights and incinerations and people shapeshift into bears, leopards and dragons.
At different times Tom is attacked by a giant mole and a possessed suit of armour, but only because current Hollywood lore demands an action scene every ten minutes. Neither episode contribute to plot or character development in any meaningful way.
One four-armed swordsman recalls the work of the great Ray Harryhausen but this shambolic load of warlocks lacks the charm and narrative clarity of his brilliant work.