It’s not hard to imagine Jeff Bridges showing up to the set of Seventh Son on day one with the idea of pranking director Sergei Bodrov. The gag would be this – Bridges would pretend he’d pulled a Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood-level of historical research, and determined exactly how a drunken witch-hunter from the Middle Ages would sound. Then, on take 1, he’d bust out the absolute stupidest voice he could think of, predicting that Bodrov would first be angry, then laugh, and it’d be a great ice-breaker.
Except if anything like this did happen, Bridges neglected the fact that non-native speakers of a language can’t really pick up on the differences between accents. So we must imagine Bodrov not only not laughing, but being cool with it…and Bridges forced to keep up the pretense that his idiotic brain-damaged-English-wizard-stroke-victim accent was what he meant to do all along.
Whatever the case, Bridges seems to be actively sabotaging Bodrov’s medieval fantasy at every turn. It’s not quite a Brando-level sabotage of truly not giving a fuck whether or not the movie is ever made, but it is so at odds with the film’s tone in every other way that it’s either an intentional middle finger to the original story, or a Captain Jack Sparrow gamble that completely failed.
That’s not to say the movie is a total loss – at times it is hilariously good-bad thanks to Bridges; at others it gets wonderfully gimmicky with the 3D, and the monsters are pretty swell. The problem is that it never settles on a consistent tone, has almost no plot (Briefly: we need to kill a witch, so let’s go where she is and do that) and feels like three hours of very little substance when it’s actually significantly less than two in total run-time. If you like this kind of thing, Wrath of the Titans, also from Legendary Pictures, does it much better.
Based on a book entitled The Spook’s Apprentice, which rather obviously needed a change, and with a plot that differs in many significant ways, Seventh Son begins with Bridges’ Gregory, a character everyone refers to as a “spook.” He has just lost his latest apprentice to the wiles of wicked witch/were-dragon Malkin (Julianne Moore), and vows to seek out another, who must be the seventh son of a seventh son. The new “lucky” prot?g?e is farmboy Tom (Ben Barnes), who likes to throw knives and occasionally gets possessed by visions of the future. Together they must slay Malkin, with whom Gregory had an affair years ago – but then Tom falls for a younger witch, the seemingly harmless Alice (Alicia Vikander).
“Who am I? Where am I?”
There are a couple of missed opportunities here. The movie all-too-briefly flirts with the notion that perhaps Gregory is a murderous lunatic and the witches are in the right, but that’s dispensed with quickly when Malkin reminds us at every turn that indeed, she’s evil. There is also a possibly amusing subtext to be read that Gregory ditched her when he realized he was gay and liked young boys – but that might be something I’m totally imagining, because it’s way more interesting than anything spelled out onscreen.
The look of the film is first-rate, with production design by veteran Dante Ferretti (Interview With the Vampire, Sweeney Todd) and special effects by John Dykstra (Star Wars) that optimize the 3-D to make waterfalls look that much higher above ground level, and city spires extra-vertiginous. The only weak spot is Gregory’s troll-like assistant Tusk, who looks like he’s wearing a bad Ron Perlman rubber mask with false fangs.
The most obvious precedent for Seventh Son is the wave of cheesy fantasy movies in the ’80s that sometimes featured unlikely stars – movies like Beastmaster, or Red Sonja, only with a crap-ton more money thrown at the production. Kids will probably enjoy it well enough, if their parents can get past the sole f-word and the numerous heart-stabbings-into-burning-skeleton fatalities. But if you’ve seen a lot of this stuff, it’s ultimately a collection of moments that don’t add up to much. Future YouTube montages of Bridges’ best lines will undoubtedly be amazing and quotable for years to come, and the creature-fights are fun to see. But in the moments when it attempts such things as story and character, it feels less equipped for the task than Frodo walking into Mordor.
Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.)
Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist