Seventh Son would be utterly forgettable, were it not for some decent directorial elements and the performances of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.
Seventh Son taks place in an ancient fantasy world, where the elderly Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) – the last in a line of knights otherwise known as “Spooks” – spends his days keeping dark supernatural forces, witches, and other dangerous creatures at bay. When the Blood Moon approaches (an event that happens once a century), Gregory’s old enemy Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the queen of witches, regains enough of her power to escape from the magical prison where Gregory locked her away, so many years before.
Gregory, with but a week left before the Blood Moon rises (restoring Malkin and her forces to their full strength), sets out to find and train a new apprentice, in the form of Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) – who, as the seventh son of a seventh son, is gifted with the strength necessary to become a Spook. However, as Tom learns more about Gregory’s harsh methods and beliefs that all creatures of the night must be eradicated, he begins to wonder if this life is really what he’s destined for.
Seventh Son is a sizably-budgeted tentpole that was once scheduled to reach theaters almost exactly two years ago, but ended up being delayed; first in order to allow more time for post-production, then a second time while it was passed from Warner Bros. to Universal (after WB and Legendary parted ways). Seventh Son is not a terrible (or even wonderfully awful) addition to the medieval fantasy/adventure film subgenre, as those holdups have led many to suspect… but, that’s not to say it’s surprisingly good, either.
Author Joseph Delaney’s Wardstone Chronicles novel, “The Spook’s Apprentice” (as it’s titled outside the U.S.), is the basis for Seventh Son‘s narrative. The film adaptation certainly hints that Delany’s source material offers a fairly rich fantasy mythology, but in Seventh Son that setting originally envisioned by Delaney comes off as only partially realized and feels under-developed. The result is a fantastical world that often doesn’t make sense and has a rather peculiar social structure, among other things. Similarly, there are several interesting thematic concepts introduced through the movie’s various subplots (about the line between good and evil, destiny vs. free will, etc.), yet Seventh Son generally fails to provide satisfying payoffs to its story threads.
The Seventh Son screenplay credited to Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) and Charles Leavitt (K-PAX, Blood Diamond) – with Matt Greenberg (Reign of Fire, 1408) acknowledged for the screen story – feels bare-bones, as though a fair amount of important plot and/or character development was cut at some point in development. On the one hand, this allows Seventh Son to avoid feeling bloated and flow by at a nice, steady, pace; on the other hand, this also makes it more difficult to be invested in much of anything (or anyone) onscreen.
Seventh Son director Sergei Bodrov actually has decades of experience when it comes to crafting historical epics that are heavier on practical elements than digital effects (see: Nomad: The Warrior, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan). It shows here too, as he and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (X-Men: Days of Future Past) paint a handsome portrait of a fantastical medieval-period world through soft focus/warm lighting techniques, while also capturing its scope ands scale with sweeping landscape shots and aerial footage – without the whole thing just feeling like a knockoff of Peter Jackson’s style, that is.
The production design by Oscar-winner Dante Ferretti (Hugo) is also strong when it comes to tangible sets and costumes/props, but the CGI in Seventh Son isn’t handled nearly so well – resulting in a number of supernatural monsters and magic effects that seem unconvincing (given the budget) and disconnected from their surroundings at times. Most of the film’s action involves battles with these digitally-enhanced monsters – and end up feeling stilted in execution for that reason. Still, there are some fun moments of creatures bursting from the screen (and scenes that benefit from added screen depth) that look better in 3D – but, overall, 3D viewing isn’t a necessity for the film.
Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory can best be described as Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn from True Grit and Gandalf the Grey (complete with Cogburn’s drawl), who’s accompanied by a likable monster sidekick named Tusk (John DeSantis). As such, the Gregory character ends up being a weird, but also entertaining and more memorable spin on the archetypal wise man (and irascible mentor to the journeying hero) than he might have been otherwise. Similarly, Julianne Moore hams it up quite wonderfully in the role of Mother Malkin, making her a delightfully cartoonish villain. That said, the film’s attempts to present her as truly menacing fail – and many will no doubt roll their eyes at the movie’s effort to present Malkin as some sort of quasi-feminist antagonist.
Unfortunately, Ben Barnes as the protagonist Tom Ward and Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina) as Alice Deane – the mysterious young woman and romantic interest for Tom – are both written as very stock fantasy characters. It doesn’t help that the actors don’t have much chemistry either, nor that their performances are somewhat lacking. Alternatively, the film’s supporting cast – Olivia Williams (Maps to the Stars), Antje Traue (Man of Steel), Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) among them – is much stronger and makes the best of the thinly-written material they’re saddled with, but their talents still feel wasted here.
Seventh Son would be utterly forgettable, were it not for some decent directorial elements and the performances of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. It’s not ridiculous enough to become an instant camp classic, nor good enough to work as a straight-faced fantasy/adventure – it sadly lands rights in the middle, making it by and large generic as they come. Fans of this genre might get additional mileage out of the film, but for many a person Seventh Son is most likely something they’d be fine with watching at home in the future – but wouldn’t feel like they got their money’s worth in a full theater trip.
Seventh Son is now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters nationwide. It is 102 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language.