Seventh Son is mediocre, but entertaining, medieval fantasy fare
When Spook John Gregory yearns to retire, training a suitable replacement is anything but an easy task. Does young Thomas Ward have what it takes in ‘Seventh Son?’
Mankind has long held a fascination with eerie things that go bump in the night and the mysterious fraternal orders that are bound by duty to keep us safe from such creatures. In Universal Pictures’ latest offering Seventh Son, we’re introduced to The Wardstone Chronicles (UK)/The Last Apprentice (US), a young-adult series written by author Joseph Delaney. This book series follows the supernatural adventures of Thomas “Tom” Ward (Ben Barnes), who is the seventh son of a seventh son, and therefore the apprentice of Spook John Gregory (Jeff Bridges). In this fictional world, a Spook is the title given to a knight who is bound by duty to fight against supernatural evil.
Only the seventh son of a seventh son is deemed strong enough to fight the good fight against a gaggle of ghosts, ghasts, witches, boggarts and the like. It seems this is a dying breed, as Gregory is the last of the Spook Masters. All of his apprentices have ultimately failed, having been killed by dark forces during their extensive training process. This is all bad enough for Gregory to contend with, but when you throw in the fact that the blood red moon is rising – an event that only happens once a century – and Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) is once more free and gathering her evil minions to take over humanity, well it becomes a dire situation not for the faint of heart indeed. Mother Malkin is the evil queen of the witches. She is very powerful and dangerous with bloodthirsty, vengeful feelings for the Spook. She will stop at nothing to see that the Spook and his young apprentice fail their quest to undermine her uprising.
After Gregory’s latest protégé (Kit Harington) is killed by Mother Malkin at the beginning of the film, he is tasked with finding a suitable replacement immediately, for the ominous blood red moon is coming in just a week’s time. His travels lead him to young Tom, who is the seventh son of a simple farmer who was also a seventh son. There is more to Tom than meets the eye. He has haunting visions – mostly about Mother Malkin – that he doesn’t understand. One gets the impression that destiny has brought the Spook to his last apprentice, for maybe, just maybe, he is the key to Mother Malkin’s undoing.
While I haven’t read any of the book series, I was instantly drawn to the character of Tom. I love stories about humble, reluctant heroes; stories about people coming of age, meeting their destinies and embarking upon a noble quest or two. I think we all like to believe there is something deep-down special about us and that’s why we look to these types of heroes. I’m also a sucker for just about anything supernatural. When you throw in a good monster or two, I’m definitely down for the fight.
Seventh Son throws an abundance of monsters on the screen to delight the audience. Some of them are funny, some of them are creepy and some of them are cool to look at. The 3D effects enrich the overall experience, but it felt like the effects could have been better at times. When Mother Malkin summons her evil cronies, one is almost overwhelmed by the variety of creatures being presented. There’s Urag (a man who transforms into the most vicious-looking bear you’ve ever seen), Radu (the fearsome leader of a band of ninja assassins who also transforms into a dragon), Sarakin (a lady who transforms into a fierce jaguar), a four-armed, sword-yielding maniac known as Virahadra and Mother Malkin’s twisted witch sister, Bony Lizzie, who also (yawns) transforms into a dragon of a different color. By the end, it feels more like a dragon fight instead of a fight between good vs evil.
A friend of mine suggested I go into the film picturing everything Jeff Bridges says in his Dude voice from The Big Lebowski to make it more enjoyable if my interest started to wane. I don’t have the heart to tell him that this would be almost impossible because Bridges’ character mumbles almost unintelligibly throughout the film and sometimes I’m not even sure what he was saying, yet alone did I have the time to picture someone else saying it.
That’s not to say I didn’t like Seventh Son. I’d be lying if I said that my inner 10-year-old who often ponders such questions as “what do monsters have nightmares about?” wasn’t satisfied on some level. There are elements to it that interested me, and I especially enjoyed the fact that Ben Barnes was in it. In fact, I just crushed on him a couple of weeks ago in the historical television miniseries Sons of Liberty in which he played the affable Sam Adams. There’s also a love angle involving Tom and one of the witches (Alice played by Alicia Vikander) that is tender and playful and provides nice breaks from the effects-heavy action sequences. I also believe the villains were all well cast, especially Djimon Hounsou as Radu. He was a badass.
However, much like The Hobbit, I think some of the richness of the fictional world was perhaps lost in this film adaptation. While I enjoyed it, I felt it never quite managed to transcend into the film it possibly could have been given the imaginative subject material (and perhaps some of the higher-ups felt this too, for I read the film’s release date was pushed back). Upon reading an online synopsis of the first book, it seems the story was almost completely changed (including the addition of new characters), and I’m not sure it was for the better. While I won’t bash the film as much as some of the other reviews I’ve seen, I can certainly understand why fans of the book series might be disappointed with the final product. I think Seventh Son had lofty goals of being the next great supernatural fantasy, but it fell more than a little short of the prize. If you’re looking for a cheesy fantasy a la the ones of your childhood, it should be right up your alley.
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