Uninspired, Dull 'Seventh Son' a Runt of Modern Fantasy Litter

Directed by: Sergey Bodrov; Runtime: 102 minutes
Grade: D+

Loosely adapted from Joseph Delaney's series of "Spook's Apprentice" novels, Seventh Son chucks yet another fantasy-action film at the ravenous masses following the release of Peter Jackson's final Hobbit film. Mongol director Sergey Bodrov spins this story of a long line of "seventh sons of seventh sons" who are trained to be witch hunters due to their inborn magical capabilities, honed by gristly mentors like Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges). Having lost his longstanding apprentice (Kit Harington) in a battle with the recently escaped witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), whose presence suggests the return of a menacing evil power upon the arrival of a full blood moon, Gregory sets out to find the next in that lineage before time runs out. Enter our destined hero, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), an unassuming young man pried from the clutches of his family -- with a snazzy magical medallion looped around his neck -- to become the next "spook": a killer of supernatural beings. So begins the hasty journey in getting Tom up to speed on the ways of battling witches, to which director Bodrov produces a thoroughly disjointed and derivative heroic adventure.

The remnants of a decent story, of tragic romance and moral confusion used to embellish the lore of Delaney's Wardstone Chronicles, can be spotted throughout Seventh Son, set against dark, gritty trappings borrowed from the live-action Tolkien and Martin fantasy realms. It clashes with the decidedly younger-oriented tempo of the storytelling, however, restraining the superior powers of beasts and witches in the presence of important characters and granting the untrained disciple just enough capability whenever he's in peril. This results in daffy plotting that's ineffectively masked by vague, theatrical platitudes -- the seventh sons of seventh sons are significant and powerful because, well, they are -- and ridiculous breaks in common sense befitting a children's fairytale. Frankly, the film shows early on that it's in trouble when the unseasoned apprentice only has a week to bone and buff up for the good versus evil battle of the century with intimidating witches, which Jon Snow had been preparing ten years for ... and you know that, somehow, he'll still be able to handle it.

Ben Barnes works what magic he can with his non-Caspian charms in diverting the audience's attention from the doubtfulness of Tom Ward's abilities, evoking a shaggy, skeptical appeal as a resistant slave to a valiant destiny. His hesitation towards adopting the "spook" way of monster-killing life tends to be the most stimulating thematic element about Seventh Son, along with the rushed, questionable yet pleasant romance he develops with Alice (an earnest Alicia Vikander), the alluring half-witch spying on Tom and Gregory's progress. Alas, their efforts are undermined by the ostentatious performances of this adaptation's two primary stars, the inextricably linked Gregory and Mother Malkin played by Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore respectively. Moore's theatricality as the shapeshifting sorceress just seems like the actress is imitating other angsty, couture witches, dialed up a few degrees with ominous proclamations. Bridges, who's typically reliable for idiosyncratic novelty, suffers more: donning a Don Quixote goatee, the sassy mumbling of his witch-slayer constantly sounds like he's holding a swig of White Russian in the back of his mouth.

Seventh Son could probably make up for its missteps had it delivered something innovative in the whimsical action department, but everything orchestrated by director Sergey Bodrov reeks of a mishmash of all other fantasy epics already out there, outclassed by the lackluster Jack the Giant Slayer and Snow White and the Huntsman. There's a steady feed of set pieces that translate to a degree of entertainment -- brawls with bears and nasty giants are coupled with spinning fire staves and flipped horse carriages -- but neither the scope nor the energy generated provides anything inventive, nor particularly invigorating. Middling visual effects don't really help matters; smoky ghosts and magically transformed rooms have a stiffness that saps the illusion out of 'em, while the flying creature effects seem middle-of-the-road even in comparison to the DTV effects in Universal's Dragonheart 3. Grimy candlelit training dens and mountainous vistas might add visual grandeur to the foreboding escalation, but it can't spruce up the flatness of those other humdrum blockbuster components.

Eventually, the anticipated grand throwdown occurs in Seventh Son upon the arrival of the blood moon, gathering together all the film's problems -- the arbitrary use of magic and violence, the unlikelihood of Tom's ability to hold his own, the theatrics of its two leads -- into the confined space of a frustratingly rushed climax. The stakes can only get so high when enchanted enemies can't unleash their full potential and get defeated fairly easy, no matter how many pillars come tumbling down or how many transformed beasts gallivant around in a stony warzone. Nifty shape-shifters, massive blades swung around on chains, and second chances at redemption for wayward witches ultimately cannot muster enough strength to conquer the underdeveloped problems that precede it. After all's said and done, the spell Seventh Son tries to cast fizzles into a quick but terribly dull waste of talent and potential, whose only saving grace ends up being that the incantation's time of duration doesn't last too long; the idea of Bordov stretching this into a Peter Jackson-length romp sounds like a curse, indeed.

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