By John P. McCarthy
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — A throwback to Saturday matinee serials and mid-20th-century action-adventure films, "Seventh Son" (Universal) aims to captivate moviegoers with an accessible tale leavened by fantasy and anchored by imperfect heroes who battle the forces of evil.
Based on "The Last Apprentice," Joseph Delaney’s series of young-adult novels, the picture is set in an unspecified place and time, though the overall look is medieval and Eurasian. Combining elements from folk legend, martial-arts flicks, romances and supernatural thrillers, "Seventh Son" represents a half-baked eclecticism — an unoriginal world in which mortals wielding steel swords are pitted against sorcerers able to morph into ferocious creatures, both familiar (bears and leopards) and exotic (dragons and monsters).
It resembles a milder cousin of the HBO series "Game of Thrones," minus the Byzantine plot saturated in politics and perversity. It might also function as a light repast for viewers lamenting the end of the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Ring" franchises.
While not in the same league as those movies, "Seventh Son" does have an old-fashioned air of derring-do and chivalry. There’s a low probability it will give offense. And it features quality 3-D visuals and stirring, 21st-century special effects that further the story and showcase the natural beauty of the British Columbia scenery.
Russian director Sergei Bodrov is adept at orchestrating thrilling sequences in which live and computer-generated action neatly mesh. The battle scenes are easy to follow and executed with restraint. This facility does not carry over to the Bodrov’s handling of his lead actor, however.
Jeff Bridges’ idiosyncratic turn as Master Gregory, a superannuated yet sneakily agile warrior, is a major distraction. Owing to a peculiar speech pattern, he sounds as if he’s impaired by an ill-fitting dental prosthesis or mouthful of pebbles. Factoring in Bridge’s laid-back aura, it feels as though Bridges’ celebrated character, the Dude from "The Big Lebowski," has been teleported into this action-fantasy milieu. (Both characters have a fondness for alcohol.) Still, "Seventh Son" is not the type of film that’s easily ruined by a performance.
Gregory is the sole remaining member of the Falcon Knights, an order of men — each the seventh son of the seventh son — dedicated to stamping out a demonic cadre of supernatural assassins led by Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). At the outset, Gregory is seen imprisoning Malkin in a remote cavern. Eventually she escapes thanks to a lunar phenomenon called the Blood Moon. Returning to the mountaintop aerie from which she commands witches, warlocks, monsters and other creatures of the dark, she plans her revenge.
When she kills Gregory’s apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington), he must find another protege, also a seventh son of a seventh son. In short order he locates Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) tending pigs on his family’s farm. Possessing special powers and guided by visions, young Tom is destined to learn from Gregory and vanquish Malkin and her minions.
Malkin sends her niece Alice (Alicia Vikander) to spy on Tom and they fall in love. Secrets are revealed, including one about Tom’s mother (Olivia Williams), and after some internecine intrigue and several violent clashes, the stage is set for a sequel.
Although couched in pagan symbols and magic, the movie’s worldview does not appear to be in direct conflict with Christianity. The idea that the division between good and evil is not clear-cut — championed by the younger generation who resist the knee-jerk hostility between mortals and supernatural beings — is more palatable than the notion that Malkin and her fallen followers behave maliciously primarily because they’ve been persecuted as outsiders.
Tom and Alice’s romance has a sensual dimension — they kiss a number of times — but greater emphasis is placed on their feelings and intellectual compatibility than on their physical attraction. While too scary for children, the material is not morally objectionable.
The film contains frequent strong yet blood-free fantasy violence, much frightening imagery involving monsters and demonic creatures, several uses of crass language, and one instance of toilet humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.