DIR: Sergey Bodrov • WRI: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight • PRO: Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull, Lionel Wigram • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Jim Page, Paul Rubell • MUS: Marco Beltrami • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges
“What goes around, comes around” is one of those vague truisms that only truly applies in two contexts: pass-the-parcel and pop culture. The past decade alone has proven true for the latter, with the superhero genre having completed a full cycle from matinee fluff to box-office heavyweight – a certain be-cowled billionaire proving particularly symbolic of a shift from camp four-colour fun towards the grounded and gritty.
Even now, however, there is evidence of a return to nostalgia – just as Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe begins to court the more colourful aspects of its comic-book ancestry, Matthew Vaughn was all-too-happy to provide a similar tonic to a spy genre replete with Bournes and Bonds in the form of last month’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service.
So with Game of Thrones as the undisputed and unrelenting lord of television and most big-screen releases little more than copycats coasting in the wake of LOTR’s box-office success (its own sequel trilogy the greatest offender among them), the fantasy genre is set for a director to come along and breathe new life with a (semi-) original property that drags traditional fantasy kicking and screaming into the internet age.
And traditional Seventh Son certainly is.
John Ward (Ben Barnes) is the seventh son of a seventh son, and thus born to fight the forces of darkness besieging a medieval world where dragons, witches and shapeshifters are very much more than stories. With an old evil newly-awakened, he is sought out by Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), last of the Seventh Sons and in the market for a new apprentice after his last protégé fell to head witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore).
The fun brand of fantasy here owes less to Tolkien than it does to Dungeons & Dragons, where monsters are ranked by classes and the apple-pie American accent is standard, the British lilt reserved only for those of sinister intent. The other trappings, however, are pure fantasy – McGuffins masquerading as jewellery abound, and the quest aspect is but another iteration of the original conservative allegory of eliminating any outside forces which might attempt to change the world we live in – there would genuinely be more pathos in watching an order of Seventh Sons passively resist their doom in the form of increasing urbanization and smaller family sizes it fosters.
An engaging story can win out above all, but when the imagination is so starved in that regard the mind turns itself towards picking flaws that might have otherwise gone happily unnoticed. It’s hard to escape the idea that Seventh Sons would have been better off evoking the trappings of traditional fantasy without chaining itself to the most restrictive of them; each enemy is just another jingoistic stand-in for a sinister ethnic other, so that the plot essentially boils to white men whacking minorities with sticks. Watching the news is free, thanks.
As for the cast, no amount of gravitas can override this much unintentional ham. Julianne Moore channels a brand of camp better suited to a Hocus Pocus sequel and though Jeff Bridges fares better by going with the flow and opting for an accent somewhere between Bane and bronchitis, I’d have much preferred to see the film he thought he was making.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Seventh Son is released 27th March 2015