Film Review: Seventh SonWitch-hunter and his apprentice face an onslaught of demons in an earnest but stale fantasy-adventure.
Dredged from a bottomless pit of sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels, Seventh Son finds Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges adding another baffling career choice to a list that includes The Giver and R.I.P.D. The surprise is that by genre standards the movie's not that bad—it's just that everything in it has been done before.
Based on a series of over a dozen novels released in the U.S. under the umbrella The Last Apprentice, Seventh Son takes place in a sort of supernatural Middle Ages where witches and demons are held in check by "spooks." Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last of these, must stop his one-time lover Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) from taking over the world when she escapes from her cell.
Gregory's apprentice Bradley (Kit Harington) learns first-hand just how powerful Malkin has become. Searching for a new apprentice, Gregory selects Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the seventh son of a seventh son.
Tom leaves his family farm to train with Gregory. He rescues the winsome Alice (Alicia Vikander) from an angry mob ready to burn her at the stake and later encounters a deadly skeleton in knight's armor. He is also beset by puzzling visions of Malkin and other foes.
Malkin, meanwhile, assembles witches and demons in her mountaintop lair, donning bondage gear adorned with feathers and threatening her sister witch Lizzie (Antje Traue), coincidentally Alice's mother. She also lays waste to "Walled City" as both warning and payback to Gregory.
Gregory leads Tom towards Malkin's castle on Mount Pendle, imparting lessons along the way. Their adventures include ogres, sinister forests, waterfalls, and more than one meeting with Alice. The two heroes bicker and spar before Tom discovers his true nature. A final fight then decides the fate of the Earth (with the potential for a sequel).
As directed by Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son feels like an anonymous, assembly-line production that blends Tolkien and Universal's line of Europe-based monster fantasies with outliers like Neil Gaiman. Spells and swordplay erupt like clockwork, all swathed with CGI. Yet with Dante Ferretti (Hugo) as production designer, Jacqueline West (the upcoming Revenant) on costumes, and John Dykstra (Star Wars) providing visual effects, the movie has moments of undeniable power and wonder.
Bridges blusters his way through the plot, swallowing his lines behind a Don Quixote beard. Moore seems oddly disaffected, especially compared to celebrated cinematic witches like Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer. Barnes and Vikander are an appealing couple, but the script gives them too little to do.
Even tacked-on IMAX and 3D can't help Seventh Son, a hardworking movie that should have been a lot better.
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