April 22, 2018

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Witches, Weapons, and Warfare | “Seventh Son” Movie Review

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Ben Barnes as Tom Ward in Seventh Son (Photo Credit: Kimberly French)

Ben Barnes as Tom Ward in Seventh Son (Photo Credit: Kimberly French)

Like a magic potion, the big-budget, special effects extravaganza Seventh Son, based on Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice (Greenwillow, 2009), takes a dash of this and a pinch of that for a concoction that’s more mild than potent. Among the familiar ingredients: a malignant force taking over the world; an elderly, wizard-like figure with a trick or two up his sleeve; a powerful pendant; and the greenhorn chosen one who grows up considerably in no time. It’s the perfect formula for a B-movie on a wintry afternoon. Fortunately for audiences weary of the same old, the role of the baddie belongs to Julianne Moore. Her Mother Malkin is so malicious she makes Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent seem mousy.

Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory (Photo Credit: Legendary Pictures and Universal Studios)

Jeff Bridges as Master Gregory (Photo Credit: Legendary Pictures and Universal Studios)

Moore’s joined by another A-lister, Jeff Bridges, almost reprising his sagacious, grandfatherly loner in The Giver, though his Master Gregory is a bit of a gruff drunk and often indecipherable. He’s a mumbling man of few words, saying just enough to let a one-liner land here and there. Still, the grizzled and standoffish spook, a killer of the creatures of the dark (witches are the most evil), can fight off a younger, muscly assailant without spilling his mug of ale.

Master Gregory searches for the seventh son of a seventh son to become his next apprentice to aid him in battling the encroaching and marauding Mother Malkin, who, freed from imprisonment, killed off the master’s last assistant in the film’s opening minutes (played by Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington). Master Gregory has a week to find a seventh son, or else all of Mother Malkins’s powers will return at the arrival of the once-in-a-century blood moon.

Soft-spoken country bumpkin and pig farmer Tom Ward (Ben Barnes, formerly of “The Chronicles of Narnia” film franchise) fits the bill. Besides being from a large brood, he has been seeing prophecies, and recognizes Gregory from his visions. First, though, Tom has to master the art of self-defense and then accept that he’ll get blood on his hands.

In comparison to the scenery-nibbling Master Gregory and Mother Malkin, Tom comes across as a nice but bland Everyboy. (He has aged up considerably from the book’s 12-year-old protagonist.) On the way to the screen, the novel has undergone other major configurations, with subplots completely jettisoned and relationships realigned. The film has also mellowed out the source’s material’s macabre mayhem: Mother Malkin refrains from sucking the blood of runaway young women as an elixir of youth. Instead, the movie has a mind of its own, more like a CW TV series with a touch of historical romance and a hefty CGI budget. Its homilies go down easy: not all witches are bad, and you can’t hide from destiny.

Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin (Photo Credit: Kimberly French)

Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin (Photo Credit: Kimberly French)

Tongue lightly planted in cheek, Moore delivers a feisty and perhaps her least subtle performance. She steps close to, but not into, camp, wisely leaving that for the dialogue (“Your queen has returned”) and the Bob Mackie–goth wardrobe.

If the film possesses one special charm that might entice moviegoers to pick up the book or others in “The Wardstone Chronicles” fantasy series, it’s the mesmerizing production design, a global mash-up of world civilizations, by Oscar winner Dante Ferretti (Hugo, Gangs of New York, and films by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini): from the crumbling Roman ruins to an ornate Persian palace out of a Eugène Delacroix painting and ye ol’ English village. The exteriors, largely filmed in Canada, set the action against what looks like the rugged canyons of the Southwest as well as the Scottish highlands. The movie’s imagination runs riot in the scenery, sets, and costumes in what is an otherwise routine centuries-long feud between good and evil with paper-thin motivations.

Directed by Sergei Bodrov

102 min.

Rated PG-13

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Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com