I have a soft spot for fantasy films: big, over-the-top epics with two scoops of swords and sorcery; honorable knights, despicable villains and horrific monsters in need of a good stabbing. There’s a part of me that struggles with mainstream acceptance of these geeky fantasy films. As a young nerd, getting excited over movies like “Ladyhawke,” “Fire and Ice” and “Willow” didn’t exactly put me on the fast track to popularity. Neither did playing Dungeons and Dragons. The narrative has drastically changed. Thanks to so many nerds growing up and moving into the entertainment industry, fantasy has become ridiculously popular. “Game of Thrones” is a pop-culture monster, one of the most popular television shows in the world. Tolkien’s “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” has become an Oscar-winning, billion-dollar franchise. Apparently, admitting to playing Dungeons and Dragons is no longer a social death sentence.
“Seventh Son” is a movie that struggles to assert itself in this new fantasy landscape. It feels a lot like other recent fantasy entries, like “Jack the Giant Slayer,” “47 Ronin” and “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” It does have a far better pedigree of talent involved. Respected actors like Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore bring some well-needed gravitas to a boilerplate epic.
Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) is the seventh son in question. He’s a young man dreaming of a more exciting life. He’s like an older, less-charismatic Luke Skywalker. Due to his lineage, he is recruited by a knight named Gregory (Jeff Bridges) to help fight the evil apprentice killing witch Mother Malkin (Juliane Moore). Gregory is the Obi Wan Kenobi to Tom’s Luke Skywalker—a drunken, strangely affected, weirdly accented Obi Wan Kenobi. I realize that stealing from “Star Wars” is nothing new, but “Seventh Son” is about as subtle as a lightsaber to the rectum.
Bridges has wandered aimlessly from one big-budget monstrosity to another. He pulled the same stunt in last year’s dreadful disaster “R.I.P.D.” He’s a bit more fun in “Seventh Son,” still doing a variation on the old grizzled character he’s been channeling since playing Rooster Cockburn in “True Grit.” His Gregory “The Spook” is a familiar archetype who is salvaged only by the amount of personality he pours into the throwaway mentor role. Julianne Moore mugs mercilessly as evil with a raging boner for destroying humanity. I doubt this is a film she’ll be pulling clips from for her “Inside the Actors Studio” appearance.
Director Sergei Bordov struggles with the scope of a movie that wildly moves from overused CGI shots to super closeups. I admire the effort behind “Seventh Son.” There’s an occasional glimmer of a good movie trapped beneath uninspired special effects and plot elements so generic they could have been created via Mad Libs. I wanted to like “Seventh Son.” Frankly, I walk into a movie like this with expectations so low I’m practically daring everyone involved to do little more than deliver something average. “Seventh Son” never manages to achieve average. It never finds a rhythm. The characters never seem like anything other than one-dimensional models. Every shoehorned plot—from the romantic subplot to the training montage—is beyond derivative.
Like most people, I love Jeff Bridges; he was in “Tron” for God’s sake. The man is a legend. I’m getting a little worn out of him in this third phase of his career. It sees him used in all these strange and senseless ways: an odd Super Bowl ad here or playing a Falcon Knight in “Seventh Son” there. The finish is beginning to lose its luster. Like a lot of older actors, they begin to do their shtick with such frequency, I start to forget why I liked them in the first place. (Much like our current loathe affair with Robert De Niro or Al Pacino.) It’s funny when you see them in something harmless like “Meet the Parents” or doing a small role in an Adam Sandler film. You can’t begrudge them for cashing in on years of strong performances and coasting through a few movies for an easy paycheck. Then, we get “Meet the Fockers” and “Little Fockers,” and we start to wonder how much more of this “focking” garbage we can stomach. “Seventh Son” isn’t Bridges scraping the bottom of the barrel, but there’s not a whole lot left to dole out.
Starring Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges
Directed by Sergei Bodrov