When I was younger, I remember live action medieval fantasy films being much awesome. Of course back then I was watching ‘The Dark Crystal,’ ‘Labyrinth,’ ‘The Neverending Story,’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ for the first time, but movies that actually came out during my childhood like ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the first few Harry Potter movies, and even ‘Dragonheart’ were each unique and entertaining as well. When I first learned about ‘Seventh Son’ during my first few months here at ScienceFiction.com, I thought that director Sergei Bodrov’s film starring Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, and Ben Barnes might be able to hang with those movies that I fondly remembered from the days before ‘Game of Thrones’. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Based on Joseph Delany’s ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’ from the Wardstone Chronicles series, the story follows Bridges’ Master Gregory as he enlists the aid of a new apprentice to battle an extremely powerful witch and her minions. On their way to the witch’s stronghold, the pair encounters all sorts of mystical creatures that they must defeat including an army of assassins, a mighty warrior that turns into a bear, and a young and deceptive half-witch that falls in love with the apprentice. And though it may sound like there are the makings of a fun, fantastical adventure in all of that, you’d be mistaken in this case.
The first problem that we come across in ‘Seventh Son’ is the script. Throughout the whole movie, it just feels like the audience is being rushed through the motions in order to get to the credits. We don’t get to see Barnes’ Tom Ward grow at all as a Spook except for a training montage, yet we’re supposed to believe that by the end of everything he can do it on his own after a few days. It took Gregory’s last apprentice ten years to get into the swing of things. While I get that Tom is special because he is a half witch on top of being a seventh son of a seventh son, it’s still hard to swallow that he becomes a master after a few days.
Speaking of a few days, this may be because ‘Frozen’ is still fresh in my head, but the love story between Tom and Alice didn’t work for me. In a matter of a couple of days, he saves her from being burned at the stake, they sleep together, and then they’re in love, all while she’s spying on him for Moore’s Mother Malkin. But Queen Elsa’s advice echoing in my head aside, the love story between Ben Barnes and Alicia Vikander’s characters just wasn’t written very well. Though we saw what each one was willing to do for the other, it seems like the writer took some major missteps in copying the classic star-crossed lovers trope.
The sloppy writing even carries over to Master Gregory’s lessons. After half-assing that training montage, Tom is trying to learn on the fly by asking questions. That’s what an apprentice is supposed to do, but when Tom asks about a boggart, Gregory brushes him off and says, “You don’t want to know.” That one throwaway line seems uncharacteristic of someone who is trying to teach someone as much as they can in a short amount of time.
Because of the abysmal writing filled with overused plot devices executed in the most generic ways possible, the cast is greatly underutilized. When you have a cast of this caliber that includes award-winning talent such as Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, you don’t relegate them to playing caricatures of fantasy characters. Plus, Djimon Hounsou wasn’t used to his fullest potential either. Even though an argument could be made that he had the same role in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ James Gunn gave him the opportunity to shine whereas Bodrov gave him an anticlimactic fight scene and an inept army of “master assassins.” As unbeatable as they said that Malkin and her lieutenants were, they basically came across as the Elite Four but without the powerful Pokemon to back them up. Every one of their defeats including Moore’s was anticlimactic. I haven’t seen such bad character development and misuse of a great cast since ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, although I’d definitely take this film over that one.
If you were looking to the CGI, special effects, and make-up to save the day, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Though there were a good amount of mystical creatures in the film, they looked almost too cartoony and they employed cheap 3D tricks that added nothing to the experience. The practical effects didn’t even blend in that well with the computer generated ones. Not even seeing the film in IMAX made it more interesting. This is probably the least impressive CG work that we’ve seen from so far from Legendary Pictures, who brought us some epic work in that department with ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Watchmen,’ ‘Godzilla,’ ‘Pacific Rim,’ and ‘Interstellar.’
We all know that the Dude abides, but one has to wonder how he does so with ‘Seventh Son.’ Everything about this movie screamed generic from the opening titles to the closing credits. I thought for a moment that it would have been better if Kit Harington and Ben Barnes had switched roles so that Jon Snow was the new apprentice instead of the old one, but that wouldn’t have changed how poorly constructed the script was. If you saw the trailer, then you saw everything that you needed to see of this film.