Review: ‘Seventh Son’ is fantasy fun for anyone who hates Harryhausen films

Sometimes, you know with one shot, one line, one choice.

With “Seventh Son,” it happened for me the moment Jeff Bridges opened his mouth. He's made a choice here that takes him further down that Rooster Cogburny RIPDy road with that gravel voice mush mouth thing, and it's genuinely ill-advised. It is embarrassing. It's like someone's grandfather wandered onto the set, and no one has the heart to tell him he's not in the movie. He is Grandalf. And it does not work.

Now, if everything else about “Seventh Son” was exemplary, there's a chance it wouldn't matter, or there's a chance it might make the Bridges performance somehow work better in context. But this is tone-deaf train crash from start to finish, cast poorly, shot in a way that might as well include title cards reading “MEANWHILE, ON A SOUNDSTAGE” at the start of some scenes, and packed with exposition that is both unending and uninteresting. “Seventh Son” is based on a book series that i'm pretty sure I'll never read now, and it can proudly take its place on top of a pile of movies, all adapted from fantasy series, all destined to never spawn a sequel under any circumstances. “Eragon,” “Golden Compass,” “Inkheart,” there's a new sheriff in town, and it stinks.

“But, wait!” I can hear you say. “You told me 'Jupiter Ascending' is pretty good, and other people say that is terrible!” And here is where we reach one of the fundamental truths of movies. No two people process them the same, and sometimes two people look at a film and see something essentially different. I'm most interested in cases like this. I look at Michael Mann's “Blackhat,” and I see something wounded and broken and entirely shabby. I look at that last gunfight, and I am confused as to how anyone can take it seriously. Two white guys with weapons in a crowd of tiny Indonesian people who don't seem to notice the gunfight happening in their midst. That's a long way from the bank robbery in “Heat.” Yet people I like and respect and agree with on many things look at that same film, and they see the Michael Mann that they love. It works for them. They buy it completely. I look at “Jupiter Ascending,” and I see a big daffy fairy tale space opera with gorgeous design and a rich visual palette and a tongue planted firmly in cheek, something with a very particular pulse and with a real sense of play. Other people see something noisy and unfunny and indecipherable.

So I say all of this with the full awareness that your mileage may vary. Maybe you saw “R.I.P.D.” and thought it was underappreciated. Maybe you thought the only problem with the film was that Ryan Reynolds and Mary Louise Parker were too charismatic, and you wanted to trade them in for a much more vanilla duo, like Ben Barnes and Alicia Vikander. Maybe you love Harryhausen films, but you wish they didn't have all that damn charm and personality. “If only someone could make a non-stop parade of monsters really dull, with not one memorable creature in the whole menagerie.” Maybe you feel like you haven't seen an origin story about “the one” learning about his “destiny” and mastering his “powers” lately, and you can't continue without one. If those things sound like selling points, then “Seventh Son” may be for you.

There's one interesting idea in the film, but the marketing sort of screwed it up. Kit Harrington has become a big enough name, thanks to “Game Of Thrones,” that I would believe that he would be the guy who played the apprentice to Jeff Bridges. As the film opens, that is indeed his job, and they stage a good ten or fifteen minutes of him holding that job until Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) lets him die at the hands of Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the witch who is the film's main bad guy. That could have been like the opening of “Psycho” if they'd played it right, selling this as the story of Harrington learning how to be a witch-hunter from Bridges. They made it so clear that this is what happened from the very first trailer though, that it's more of an annoyance sitting through it, waiting for the real film to begin, and doubly so considering Ben Barnes simply doesn't have the gravity to play the lead in a film like this.

Barnes is one of about 20 young guys who look to be the exact same person, all of them cloned from the same strain as Orlando Bloom, all of them fated to a life of near-stardom that will never quite happen. I can look directly at Ben Barnes and forget what he looks like as I'm doing so. Neat trick. He's Tom, the new apprentice, a seventh son of a seventh son, fated for this kind of work. He sees visions of the future, and he has a mother (Olivia Williams) who has a magic pendant of some kind that she gives him when he is called to serve under Master Gregory.

I can see the kind of character they thought they were creating with Master Gregory. We meet him in a tavern. He's drinking even as they're ringing the bells and calling him to action. He's supposed to go drive a demon out of a ten-year-old girl in a nearby church. His apprentice tries to get him off his barstool. Another patron takes offense. Master Gregory fights him, defeating him using only his mug of ale instead of a sword! Hilarity ensues, even as Master Gregory goes to save the girl.

Only that whole scene pretty much sums up exactly what's wrong with the film. Sergey Bodrov, whose “Mongol” was a solid entry in the sweeping action-driven historical biopic category, is not a funny filmmaker. He has his strengths as a filmmaker, but light and funny does not appear to be one of them, and for a film like “Seventh Son” to land its tone properly, light and funny is essential. This thing plods. It lumbers. It oversells every dramatic beat. Poor Julianne Moore. She looks like she has no idea if she's allowed to camp it up or not. She starts to turn it up, then brings it back down because everything else is so one-note-dour, and the film lurches along around her, no sense of rhythm or momentum.

Vikander plays Alice, who Barnes rescues from an angry mob directly out of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and she also has some secret connection to Mother Malkin and her family of witches that includes Bony Lizzie (Antje Traue),Radu (Djimon Hounsou), Urag (Jason Scott Lee), and Sarikin (Kandyse McClure), all of them capable of random magic powers that don't remotely suggest a unified mythology or any sort of thematic attempt. Alice and Tom begin a secret affair, even as Tom and Master Gregory make their march to Mother Malkin's stronghold for their big final battle.

There's not a single sequence that they stage well, and not a single character who works in any sort of consistent, logical manner. It is a staggeringly bad film, made up of lots of faulty pieces. By the time it reached its big finish and then began a closing credits sequence made up of “the best moments” all played again, I was willing to karate people to get out of the theater. A victory lap at the end of a film this bad almost seems sadistic, but I take solace in knowing that the people who made the movie had to watch it 1000 times or so while making it. I can think of no greater penance to pay for their movie sins.

“Seventh Son” unleashes all its awesome in theaters everywhere today.