Ask anyone that’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons what their best memories are from their adventurers, and few will mention the biggest monster they fought or their most epic encounter. Sure, the tension and play out of a crucial dice role will thrill you in the moment but these are memories that can fade just as fast they are forged. The real times that stick with you are those epic story twists and revelations that kept your DM up until 3 am to finish. The great characters you encounter and the painful decisions you were forced to make. A great monster is for an encounter. A great adventure is for a lifetime. Clearly Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol) has never known such nerdy pleasures as all he thinks it takes to make great fantasy adventure is big monsters to overshadow the poor story and characters. He made a genre knowledge check and rolled a 1.
Based on Joseph Delaney’s 2004 The Spook’s Apprentice (1st story in The Wardstone Chronicles), Tom (Ben Barnes – Prince Caspian, Dorian Gray), the seventh son of a farmer is recruited by the aging Gregory (Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski, The Giver) as his new apprentice. Together they fight to save the world from an evil Queen Witch (Julianne Moore – Children of Men, Still Alice).
Firstly, this is a very loose adaption of its source novel. It changes vast amounts of the story but more crucially the tone. Lead character Tom has transitioned from a 12 year old boy to a fully grown man. They’ve tried to age some of the material along with him but without leaving all of the child’s story behind, creating the very inconsistent feel of film trying to be everything but succeeding in none of it. The story is thin and ropey at best, with many needless and hollow supporting characters to drag it down to a trudging affair. Pointless shape-shifting villainess lieutenants only appearing for the odd big CG effects shot and given a couple of weary lines of dialogue to try make them feel more than a walking prop. The worst thing is that most of their payoff moments aren’t even that good. The dragons on Game of Thrones are more convincing than the flying ladies on show here. At no point do any of the many CG sequences feel integrated to the story, rather a poor substitute for it. Yet as opposed to successful effects heavy films, there’s no sense of fun to them that makes you just role with the big punches and flashing lights (such as The Mummy). We don’t have any connection to any monster fights or attacks other than being aware some characters might die but feel so little connection to them we’d barely flinch either way. Even the centrally pairing of Bridges and Barnes is downright dull. Bridges gets only two laughs in the entire film, leaving his Gregory feeling stiff and uncaring. Barnes has the misfortune of being upstaged by his predecessor and feeling highly inferior by comparison. The opening 10 minutes pledge Kit “John Snow” Harrington as Gregory’s ill fated prior apprentice. In this meagre time, he entertains more than Barnes does for the next 90 and showcases far better chemistry with Bridges, making us wish his Thrones filming schedule permitted him the lead role.
Trying to grope in the grim darkness for more favourable comments; despite the weaker effects some of the action sequences are entertaining enough. Some of the real life scenery and locations are also pleasing on the eyes; from their forest or mountain wonderings (Film in British Columbia). The odd laugh does spring from the rather dire script and Jeff Bridges beating up a man with his ale tankard without spilling it. That’s actually about it. The hammered in romantic arcs or past present are limp and lifeless. The older ex-romance between Bridges and Moore fails by apparently meaning nothing to either of them in person. Even under enchantment, we never believe any connection between this Big Lebowski reunion. The younger pairing of Barnes and Alicia Vikander’s (Ex Machina, Testament of Youth) nice witch fair a little better by comparison, but they still feel nothing more than a match of convenience.
Jeff Bridges has been on a bad run in fantasy/sci-fi with RIPD and The Giver recently, but this may be his worst ever performance. He barely appears more than a reflection with himself, offering painfully little to like. Ben Barnes is trying his best but the material is so heavily against him, it saps the strength from his every effort. If this was your first glimpse of Julianne Moore, you’d never believe she’d just won an Oscar. Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator, Guardians of the Galaxy) looks like his every acting bone has been surgically removed. It takes considerable effort to make people this good look that bad. The more favorable turns come from Vikander as she at least makes us feel her conflict between the loyalty towards her mother and kind against her feelings for Tom. Oliver Williams (Dollhouse, Sabotage) also escapes with dignity and credibility in fact as Tom’s mother.
Seventh Son wants to be your next big fantasy epic. Instead it’s just an epic fail that three years after it was filmed it finally gets a release (Legendary Pictures had to give an extra $5 million to the film’s bankrupt effects company just to finish it). Despite being the starting point of fiction franchise it makes less effort to create a world than your average porn film series. A horrible example of everything a misguided film executive thinks a fantasy film should be with almost nothing real genre fans actually want. It’s so lazy it doesn’t even bother explaining why Tom needs to be a seventh son to fight evil. Do not give this film your time, your money or anything but your resentment.