Maybe it’s time I added a few more books to my already crowded nightstand. Perhaps I should be familiar with author Thomas Siegel’s YA novel, The Spook’s Apprentice, part of a 14-book series known as the Wardstone Chronicles.
Had I been, I might have been more entertained by Seventh Son, director Sergey Bodrov’s lavish but overly familiar adaptation of one of Siegel’s novels.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Maybe I would have been more appreciative of the concept of an alternate universe where wizards battle witches, and the fate of humanity hinges on the outcome of these supposedly epic clashes.
Maybe, but I doubt it.
A movie must stand on its own, and Seventh Son must (at least with me) work against a deck stacked with diminishing appetite for swords, sorcery and medieval-style mayhem. I’m more than a little tired of movies in which anyone must fight a force called “The Dark,” even when Jeff Bridges — an actor I much admire — plays the movie’s battler-in-chief.
In Seventh Son, Bridges portrays Master Gregory, a gruff fellow of superior skills. Master Gregory has been battling evil (with help from a series of doomed apprentices) for a very long time. He wears a cowl, carries a staff and is quick to dispense judgment.
Bridges strains to lower his voice by a couple of octaves, either that or he’s doing an impression of the late John Huston. Whatever the case, I hope Bridges plans a speedy return to the 21st century.
I would have skipped Seventh Son entirely, but for Bridge’s presence, which is augmented by the participation of Julianne Moore, who plays Mother Malkin. Mother Malkin is an evil witch who’s capable of turning herself into a ferocious dragon or maybe it’s the other way around. She might be a dragon who can appear as a witch.
Bridges already has won an Academy Award (for his work in Crazy Heart) and Moore probably is on the verge of winning one for playing an Alzheimer’s afflicted professor in Still Alice. Safe to say, neither will be feted for their work in Seventh Son.
To her credit, Moore never attempts to distance herself from this medieval mash-up, giving it her sinister all while tempering Mother Malkin’s fury with a bit of lascivious wit.
Performances aside, the movie feels like second-hand goods, a fantasy that doesn’t appear to be breaking much new ground.
The story finds Master Gregory locating his latest (and last) apprentice (Ben Barnes). He trains Barnes’s Tom Ward to fight the witch and her associates. These include a warrior played by Djimon Hounsou, an actor who has mastered the art of the brooding scowl.
Along the way, a somewhat bland Tom is smitten with a young witch played by Alicia Vikander, made to look attractive in a fairy-tale sort of way. We’re meant to wonder whether Vikander’s Alice is a good or bad witch, but this purported puzzlement hardly qualifies as an adequate source of mystery.
Seventh Son includes its share of big battles, but fails to establish itself as a worthy addition to a genre that seems to be undergoing entropic expansion.
Oh, how I wish the darkness would lift, and we could move on from a moment when movies we haven’t seen before feel pretty much like those we have.