Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Priest 3D
Priest, the 2011 film that reteams director Scott Stewart with Paul Bettany (the pair directed and starred in Legion, respectively), is an adaptation of the Korean comic series of the same name by Hyung Min-woo. However, the Priest of Korean print tells a very different story than that of its Hollywood movie counterpart. Instead of battling fallen angels, the American Priest fights beastly vampires – who sleep in coffins and keep humans as pets.
That said, plenty of comic book-turned-movie adaptations have benefited from creative liberties here and there. While Stewart’s Priest has certainly taken more liberties than most – it’s still possible that the final film is better for the alterations, right?
Unfortunately, Priest joins other lackluster films (such as My Soul to Take) that were delayed upon completion and retrofitted with post-converted 3D to help attract audiences to a film that otherwise has very little going for it – aside from a few slow-motion-heavy action set pieces. The alteration to the core Priest storyline (originally about an undead pilgrim who is reborn after merging with a supernatural force) creates one of the weirdest narrative mishmashes in recent memory.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Priest is the shameless lack of world-building. In case you’re unfamiliar, the film takes place in a (potentially) fascinating alternate world where humans and beastly vampires have warred for centuries (The Crusades, World War II, etc) - though the film never takes advantage of this foundation. To turn the tide, the Church unleashes "the Priests," humans with super-human-like reflexes, who drive the vampires into exile.
Humanity takes shelter in large fortified Church-run cities, and instead of eradicating the vampires altogether, the creatures of the night are quarantined in concentration camp-like facilities, while the Priests are forced to live in obscurity, since the church fears the warriors might rebel against the aging religious regime. This status quo is sustained until a vampire attack on a farming community sends Bettany's Priest on a journey of revenge which opposes the will of the church leaders, who (predictably) have become vain and subsequently brand Priest a trouble-maker, electing to ignore the vampire threat and attack the noble warrior instead.
As mentioned, the film never really takes advantage of anything more than the most basic settings and story beats – never really touching on the vampire strata (i.e., that there’s more than one kind), the day-to-day lives of the surviving humans, or what could be an interesting juxtaposition in the character of Priest (a man of faith who enjoys killing). Instead, the film focuses on the cliché story of a "true" man of faith who must do God’s work – in spite of a vacuous and incompetent church organization. Even though the basic plot isn’t particularly fresh, Priest still had room to capitalize on its less-conventional aspects, given the film’s dystopian Western setting and intriguing mix of modern/traditional vampire tropes. Unfortunately, the movie is too one-note to take advantage of anything but a linear race to the final Priest-on-vampire battle.
While the phrase "Priest-on-vampire battle" might sound epic and exciting, the film manages to underwhelm even in the one area that many action fans were looking forward to –the action. Sadly, there are really only about three action set-pieces in the film and the first one is (by far) the best; after that strong start, the film never manages to regain momentum. Despite a couple of isolated fight sequences during the climax, the whole thing mostly goes out in a non-sensical whimper (especially if you're Cam Gigandet's character, Hicks).
While it might sound like brow-beating, the problems with the story and action sequences are largely predicated on the film’s ability to make even a character as (theoretically) badass and (potentially) interesting as Priest into a complete bore. Similarly, Karl Urban’s “Black Hat” is kept in the shadows so long that, by the time he’s fully revealed, it has already become clear that there’s very little substance to the character – or his backstory. Gigandet (best known as James from Twilight) plays a Western Lawman (the aforementioned Hicks) who provides a few entertaining moments, but mostly serves as a foil for Priest, and an excuse for Bettany to deliver heavy exposition about the in-and-outs of vampire hunting.
Even the more successful character moments are undermined by some of the most clichéd and heavy-handed dialogue in recent memory. Priest just mutters generalities under his breath; Black Hat spouts the Greatest Hits of essential villainous platitudes - “You’ve done well” and “I’m counting on it"; Maggie Q (who plays her usual contemplative female warrior role) has the only heartfelt and (almost) charismatic dialogue in the film. Sadly though, the lack of execution with the rest of the project makes even the moments between Priest and Q’s Priestess come across as overly-melodramatic.
Similar to the film’s twist (which has very little bearing on the emotional complexity of the story), the 3D in Priest is entirely unnecessary and is one of the more egregious attempts at selling audiences on a mess of a film by slapping post-converted 3D on it. The 3D itself doesn’t fail as bad as the infamous Clash of the Titans post-conversion but it’s still entirely unnecessary and only succeeds in not making the film any worse than it would be – except for the higher ticket price.
Inevitably, some action fans will read this review and say something along the lines of, “It’s just an action movie – it doesn’t need character development or competent dialogue." and I somewhat agree. In some cases, it’s fair to overlook whether a movie is technically good, in favor of it being immensely entertaining (Fast Five is a good example). However, Priest is an especially lousy action movie with very little compelling action, boring characters, and a convoluted plot, all put together by a group of filmmakers who failed entirely at capitalizing on the more compelling aspects of the core concept. And given that they had an extra year to get the film into theaters (it was originally set for an August 27th 2010 release), it's only more disappointing that most that was done to try to salvage the wreckage was tempting audiences with a post-conversion 3D gimmick.
That said, if there's one thing Priest gets right, it's Genndy Tartakovsky's beautiful animated prologue - which you can view FOR FREE in its entirety HERE.
If you’re still on the fence about Priest, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick -- and let us know what you thought of the film below.
Priest is currently playing in 2D and 3D theaters.