It feels a little patronizing that the first and most immediate thought which comes to mind when considering Seventh Son is that “it’s not as bad as it could have been.” But it’s really not, and this is meant in the most positive way possible. For a film given the red-headed stepchild treatment by more than one studio, finally getting released over two years after its initially announced date, Seventh Son is a perfectly cromulent bit of spectacle fantasy filmmaking. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, either, and it’s unlikely that the film will spawn the franchise it clearly seems to be setting up at times, but it’s hardly the worst movie you could see in theaters right now. Again, this may all sound like lukewarm praise, and perhaps that’s appropriate, but it’s really all that bad.
See, Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a Spook (yeah, it’s a weird phrasing choice, just work past it now so we can get through this together), a demon hunter who works on mercenary hire, roaming the lands in search of supernatural creatures. Because he’s a latter-day Jeff Bridges character, he’s also given to drink and frequently speaks with odd inflections and accents. After his latest apprentice is murdered by the recently unleashed Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a witch of substantial powers, Gregory is left in need of somebody who can succeed him. So he finds Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the “seventh son of the seventh son,” because this movie seriously cannot stop repeating its own title during the film. Tom, an unassuming farm boy, wonders why he’s been tasked. Of course, it’s because there’s more to Tom than Gregory or anyone else can see right away, and if he can overcome his own self-imposed obstacles, he may just be the savior of all the lands, the one who can stop Mother Malkin from imposing darkness over all.
Seventh Son cleverly couches its necessary explanations of its universe and the many creatures which inhabit it within the relationship between Gregory and Tom. As Tom learns, so do we. And for a character who basically exists to serve as an audience proxy for explanations, Barnes is an engaging enough lead, lending Tom a sarcastic sense of humor from which the film greatly benefits. That’s part of what makes Seventh Son a decently engaging watch: nothing is taken with the sort of overt seriousness that sinks films like I, Frankenstein. This starts with the film’s leads; Bridges is a lot more fun as a crusty, seen-it-all warrior type here than in dross like R.I.P.D., and Moore deserves substantial praise for her vigorous vamping as Mother Malkin. As she slinks and cackles her way through gems like “my power returns with the rise of the blood moon,” Moore pulls off that balance at which she’s often so adept and which few other actresses can match, that line between knowing self-effacement and true gravitas.
Everybody involved is game, which is why it ends up being more than a little disappointing that Seventh Son is more than willing to work through hyper-predictable beats, one after the next, until the whole thing resolves. Were the film willing to get weird and find its own footing, it would be considerably more interesting than its eventual trajectory of boy meets master of his craft, boy learns craft himself, boy ends up in a star-crossed romance with a comely half-witch (Alicia Vikander), Moore turns into a dragon with red dreadlocks, boy enters an ultimate final battle that will test his mettle. The film’s core romance is tepid; the broken one that constitutes its mythos is considerably more interesting, but is rather brusquely tossed aside before the end.
Still, there’s fun to be had with Seventh Son, as long as you go in knowing that you’ll scarcely see a single thing you haven’t before. A chase through the woods between Gregory and Tom and a boggart (not a manifestation of your worst fears in your wardrobe, but rather a Godzilla-lite giant in this context) is quick and enjoyable and works even when it blatantly cribs one of the most famous shots from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Most of the action is quick but lucid, with little of the distracting smash editing that characterizes so many recent Hollywood action outings. Seventh Son doesn’t break much new ground, but it’s a reasonably entertaining walk through familiar, friendly territory. Every once in a while, that’s okay too.