If it all sounds like your average good-versus-evil scenario, that's because it is.
It has dragons, shape-shifting, power struggles and Kit Harington — and someone is told that they know nothing, though not the man best known as Jon Snow. We’re not talking about Game of Thrones. If only. Instead, the latest effort to wave the fantasy flag is Seventh Son.
The film is based on the novel The Spook's Apprentice and was actually shot three years ago, but it clearly really wants to be everyone’s favourite TV show. It also wants to be every other story about epic quests, long-held feuds, strange creatures and supernatural powers that has reached a screen — large, small or kindle — over the past ten years or so.
The bad news: shared dashes of drama, magic and medieval theming aside, and there's plenty, trying to be just like everything fantasy fans know and love doesn’t do this movie any favours. The worse news: it also leaves it looking like a pale imitation of better work. From the computer-animated monsters to the lukewarm love story, Seventh Son comes second in every category.
The title and the tale tell of a young man, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), whose birth order sees him selected to learn the witch-hunting, realm-protecting trade. He’s not just a seventh son — he’s the seventh son of a seventh son — so legend has it that he’s something extra special. Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) tries to teach Tom new tricks, but time isn’t on their side. A once-in-a-century blood moon is a mere week away, with evil enchantress Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) planning to use the occasion to take over the world.
If it all sounds like your average good-versus-evil scenario, that’s because it is. More than that, it’s dull, familiarity not quite breeding contempt but certainly not inspiring much interest. That every plot point just feels like an exercise in ticking the requisite boxes doesn’t help, including the complications added when half-witch Alice (Alicia Vikander), the nicer niece of Malkin, falls for our hero. The 3D action sequences do the same; even when they’re trying to ramp up the spectacle with giants, tumbles down waterfalls and shape-shifting henchmen, everything is firmly in by-the-numbers territory.
What Seventh Son does boast is ample talent, though two-time Oscar nominee Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains, Mongol) doesn’t fare so well with his slapdash efforts in the director’s chair. Thankfully, 2011 best actor Oscar winner Bridges and newly minted best actress Oscar recipient Moore do better — or as well as they can given what’s being asked of them. Indeed, the veteran performers are the most watchable part of the movie, one grumbling, mumbling and stumbling, the other relishing an over-the-top role, and both as cartoonish as you can get. That Barnes and Vikander — and everything else — seems bland in comparison is hardly surprising.
As an adaptation of the first book in a now fourteen-strong series, Seventh Son was obviously once seen as the start of a new film franchise. If there’s any real magic in this movie, it is in ensuring that that doesn’t happen.
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