What’s worse than a film headed towards the January/February dump zone? How about a film that was originally headed there until production delays pushed its release to October, at which point legal wrangling between the production company and the original distributor end up delaying the film again not just until the next year’s dump zone, but until the one the year after that. This trip through production hell is exactly what happened to Seventh Son, a twice-dumped movie that stinks to high heaven.
I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of most fantasy novels; I burned myself out on them early in high school when I began to realize that almost all of them are jumbled rehashes of Tolkien, and that it’s not worth it for me to wade through the ninety percent of crap to identify the ten percent that’s not, much less the even smaller fraction that rises above the level of “at least it’s not crap”. Yes, I do it here for movies, but somehow that feels different to me, and damn the hypocrisy.
That all said: at a glance the Wardstone Chronicles — the first of which is the basis for Seventh Son — look even more ridiculous and hackneyed than most potboiler fantasy novels I’ve seen. I admit it’s possible that Joseph Delaney is such a master of prose that he elevates the material beyond the level suggested by the truly awful synopses I’ve read, but if that’s the case then none of that has made it through into Sergei Bodrov’s movie. There is literally a reference to a “level six creature”, suggesting an inspiration in Dungeons & Dragons that confuses game mechanics with storytelling.
John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a “Spook”. Now, I’m willing to grant that the word probably doesn’t have the same ring in Lancashire, England as it does here, and that Random House had the good sense to retitle pretty much all of the books for their American release. Besides, it’s not like they’re using the word in some otherwise racially-charged setting; pretty much everyone here is lily-white and the only exceptions (Djimon Hounsou, Kandyse McClure, Zahf Paroo, Jason Scott Lee) are all servants of the evil witch-queen Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) — and all original to the movie, it would seem — while the “Spooks” are generally on the side of good. Still, it gets a little jarring to hear that word over and over again.
Master Gregory is the last remaining of a long line of knights who battle the forces of evil, and he has a hard time getting an apprentice trained to carry on. In fact, we see Mother Malkin take out his previous apprentice (Kit Harrington) within the opening sequence of the movie. That’s right: this was being produced so long ago that Harrington is playing an expendable minor character. Gregory enlists Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the seventh son of a seventh son — this has a classic medieval significance the movie never bothers to explain to those who don’t already know — who may possibly be cut out to join the order and become a knight himself.
There’s a lot going on here, and a lot of world-building setup that the screenplay has to deliver to us just-in-time before using it. And unlike the sprawling mess of Jupiter Ascending there’s no real aspiration here. There’s a bit of a fight scene here and there, but the story is largely content to pace through the same well-worn tropes as every other action-fantasy movie that comes out, and have the cast mouth the same ridiculous dialogue. It doesn’t even rise to the level of campy melodrama, and the plot is deadly dull and predictable at every turn. Weird I can forgive; boring I can’t.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: close, but I don’t think it quite manages to pass.