With Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Williams. Written Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight Directed by Sergei Bodrov. Rated PG-13 for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language. 102 minutes.
There’s a moment early on in SEVENTH SON when a group of medieval townspeople are taking a young woman to be burned while shouting, “She’s a witch!” The only thing that might have saved this pedestrian excuse for a fantasy film is if one of them announced, “She turned me into a newt!” Alas, there’s no “Monty Python” humor here, just a trite collection of clichés and solid, if not particularly overwhelming, special effects.
Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) is the “seventh son of a seventh son” and we’re just supposed to assume this is significant, for its importance is never explained. He has visions of the future, so that when Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) arrives to claim him, Tom tells his mother (Olivia Williams) that he’s destined to join the “Spook” in his hunt for witches. We know that Gregory’s last apprentice came to an untimely end from an encounter with Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the recently-escaped queen of the witches.
Much of the film is about Tom’s apprenticeship as Yoda–excuse me, Master Gregory–teaches him various things in a gruff and confusing way (as Jeff Bridges is recently wont to do). The point of the story is less whether good will triumph over evil (do you have any doubt?) than whether Gandalf–pardon, Master Gregory–will decide that Tom is finally worthy to take on the task of fighting witches.
Complicating matters is Alice (Alicia Vikander), the accused witch, whom Tom rescues. Is she really a witch? Does Tom’s affection mean he will fail as Merlin’s–sorry, Master Gregory’s–student? And why should anyone in the audience care?
That is the real problem with the film. The story is so familiar that even if you haven’t read Joseph Delaney’s “The Spook’s Apprentice” (the film’s source material) you’re never surprised by what happens. Indeed, when we meet Malkin’s cohorts, you can predict the order in which they will die. (Bet on Djimon Hounsou–whose credits including “Gladiator” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”–to stick around for a while.)
Ben Barnes is sufficiently callow as Tom but doesn’t make us want to root for him, and Oscar-watchers who only know Julianne Moore from this may be surprised if she snags the Best Actress Oscar for “Still Alice,” as expected. You wouldn’t know she’s a first class actress from this. As for Jeff Bridges, what is there to say? After having finally won his Oscar, he just doesn’t seem to care anymore. His hammy turns in recent movies like “The Giver” and “R.I.P.D.” makes you wonder why he’s still bothering to make movies. “Seventh Son” provides the answer: for the money.
Perhaps he needs the money. It’s your decision whether you want to give him yours.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.