Fantasy has a long history in movies, running all the way back to Georges Méliès's imaginative 1890s shorts, but Seventh Son can trace its roots more directly to two sources: the masculinist epic fantasy blockbusters of the 80's—from Excalibur to Willow to The Highlander—and the breakout success of HBO's Game of Thrones. (In fact Game of Thrones's own Kit Harrington has a two-minute cameo in this film, seemingly to legitimize its epic fantasy chops.) It's hard to imagine a film as boring as this being greenlit without a tacit assumption that it can tap into an existing fanbase. In other words, since Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, fantasy is what's in. While it is fun to see this genre coming into its own financially, like comic book movies did 15 years ago or science fiction in the years since, this particular brand of watered down mainstream action fantasy is insufferable. Coming out the same weekend as the similarly toned Wachowski project Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son is the kind of bland, poorly written exercise that is the result of the complete normalization of a genre. This is The Incredible Hulk or The Last Airbender, a film so mediocre, uncreative, and uninspired that it can't even be appreciated as a guilty pleasure, even with a surprisingly talented cast.
Director: Sergey Bodrov
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull, Lionel Wigram
Writers: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight, Matt Greenberg, Joseph Delany (novel)
Cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel
Editors: Jim Page, Paul Rubell
Music: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, John DeSantis, Kit Harrington, Djimon Hounsou
US Theatrical Release: February 6, 2015
US Distributor: Universal Pictures
And what a cast it is! It's been 15 years since The Big Lebowski and this film, for some reason, offers our first chance to see Maud and Jeffrey together again. Few films have the acting provenance and proven chemistry that Seventh Son gets from this casting, yet Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore's screen reprisal is flat and boring. Whatever connection the pair evinced in Lebowski has dried up in favor of dull action sequences and contrived romance. Master Gregory (Bridges) is a staff-wielding, wandering wizard and Mother Malkin (Moore) is the witch queen who he once loved, now back to seek revenge for a half-century of imprisonment at his hands. Gregory's only chance to stop Malkin is by training his new apprentice Tom (Ben Barnes), who is gifted with peerless magical ability as the seventh son of a seventh son. This premise could have been delightfully campy, an outrageous fantasy romp led by the charisma of its stars, but this film takes itself too seriously for that. It's full of portentous close ups but no substance to back it up—we're never given any reason to care.
The script and direction are so lackluster that not even Julianne Moore can pull this film out of tedium. And what’s worse are the off-color racial implications; this is, at its heart, a film about two white men who use a magical rod to defeat a squadron of villainous women and people of color. Gregory is a “spook,” a terminology choice that’s about as tone deaf as the rest of the film (it’s hard to imagine a fantasy story about a wandering "kike" or "wop" making it through to publication, let alone filmic adaptation) and he has an indeterminable accent that makes many of his one-liners unintelligible. In fact this script seems to be primarily one-liners, from too-easy jokes ("I'm starting to wish I was a sixth son") to overly dramatized schmaltz ("I thought betrayal was a sin only committed by humans"). But Bridges's weird performance seems to set the tone for the whole film. His vocal pattern is alien and inhuman, a strange fusion of old British-inspired fantasy and the drunken cowboy dialect he mumbled out in True Grit. The result makes him sound like he’s always bemusedly chewing on a tough piece of leather. As the plot progresses, pure exposition leads to senseless CGI violence—some of the villains get no lines beyond growls and moans—and the whole thing wraps up as a faux-profound morality tale. There are very few movies that make me feel this way, but this time I wish I had my two hours back.