This was not a good movie. It pains me to say this because I have a friend who worked on it (the visual effects were great, B!) but oh boy.
Okay, now that I’ve blurted out my thesis, it’s time to back it up.
First of all, is anyone surprised? When my friend Annie told me she had early screening tickets on Wednesday, I had no clue what she was going on about and very vaguely knew that it was a movie at all. Something something… fantasy or sci-fi genre? Am I out of the loop or did it seem like there was very minimal promotion going on for this? (Not a rhetorical question, it is entirely likely that I just was never targeted for advertising for this movie.)
I am assuming that all the actors in this film were really well-paid because ugh, it was just awful. I really take issue with the writing. The dialogue made me roll my eyes into the back of my head and the plot points were so loosely tied together. The movie itself was pretty short, which was great for me because that meant I didn’t have to endure it for more than 2 hours. But maybe they could have used some extra time to build the world here? World building is crucial and I will never excuse any book, movie, TV show, etc. that doesn’t take care to do it. I mean, there’s a scene where we are looking at a tombstone. It says “REBEKKA” backwards. Is this the script of this grand world? Mirrored English? That was one of the worst offenses, that they made such a laughably barely-half-arsed attempt at the world-building. This is a movie based on a book series, the world-building is done! You just have to put it in the movie!
You know what’s worse than a movie with an all-white cast?
A movie where the only people of color are the secondary villains who have zero character development and are killed off.
Djimon Honsou is in this and it’s such a shame that his talent is wasted here. There was an Asian secondary villain who doesn’t have any freaking lines before he is killed. Do not even get me started on the black female secondary villain who takes the form of a leopard. She is reduced to an animal much more than the other villains, and the Asian one was a bear chained in a cage for most of his scene, so that’s telling. And of course, she has no lines. At least Djimon Honsou had lines.
I cringed during most of Jeff Bridges’ and Julianne Moore’s scenes. I think I cringed most watching Julianne Moore play this poorly developed villain. I couldn’t help think of her standing in front of a green screen pretending to wield magic while she has been nominated for an Oscar for the fifth time. I’ll go more into how I think her character fell completely flat later, but just… know there was a lot of putting my head in my hands in the middle of the theater. I don’t blame her at all. She did the best she could with what she was given… but she was given baloney.
Jeff Bridges, the Oscar-winning actor, may have known this was all ridiculous. He uses this strange affect when he speaks in this movie, like if Sean Connery was trying to play Gandalf. Maybe his character is supposed to be a kind of washed up old fool, but it was still very sad to see him like this. I’d like to think that he knew this whole movie was ludicrous and was just having fun while getting paid.
Ben Barnes actually did a pretty good job. I’m not familiar with his work (sorry Prince Caspian fans) but you know what, he looked good in this role and I think he delivered. Not sure why his character was the only one with any real depth but okay then. I’d watch more movies with him after seeing Seventh Son.
If you’re familiar with my reviews, you might know that I care deeply about world-building and relationship-building. The relationships between characters bond us to them more than their actions independent of other people. The relationships in this movie were almost all BS. There’s, obviously, a love story and it’s completely limp. It drives much of the plot ending forward and I was so detached from it that I was really disgusted. Two attractive actors with some on-screen chemistry does not a love story make! The only maybe compelling relationship, to me, was of Tom Ward (our protagonist) and his mother. His mother was a pretty cool character, played by Olivia Williams, and I maybe felt most attached to her. But maybe that’s just because it’s easy to write maternal traits without having to do much else.
I mean… I have so many negative things to say here. A waste of Kit Harington, who is only in the movie for the first 10 minutes, sorry to all his fans. A waste of admittedly, as I said early, really nice visual effects to create magic and mythical beasts. A waste of what seems like it was a really cool world. This story is just empty and flat and I had no reason to care about it. I was so uninvested in the characters, in the story, about 5 minutes into the movie. Spoiler alert: Gregory locks away Mother Malkin and she escapes because “time made her stronger” and that is the impetus for our conflict? That after enough time passed, she could just leave her prison? As soon as this happened, and Julianne Moore was introduced in just an utterly tragic costume, I knew this movie was worse than I thought it would be going into this screening.
I’m just going to show you the trailer now, I guess. More ranting afterwards.
UGH. Okay, where to start, where to start…
Let’s start with the villains. Mother Malkin, played by Julianne Moore. We only know that she wasn’t always evil. In fact, she and Gregory (Bridges) were once in love? But then Gregory was like nah. It’s unclear why he married Rebekka. Maybe it was because Mother Malkin went bad but she seemed to go totally bad after he married Rebekka so… what was the deal here exactly?
It makes sense why he didn’t kill her if he once loved her, but why imprison her in such a weak way? She literally only escapes because time made her stronger? Are you being completely serious? Just because of rising blood moon? Did Gregory not anticipate this??
Kit Harington just gets killed off, I’m sorry, it was a waste. GoT fans may weep for him for one minute.
The cast of random, unimportant ethnic secondary witches and warlocks is so pathetic. Not only because they are the only PoCs in the film but because they seem so lame. I mean one is supposed to be a master of swords. If we ignore that he is a rather insensitive caricature/amalgamation of Hindu gods, he is barely able to hold his own against a girl in a sword fight. He wields 8 swords and can’t beat a young witch easily in a swordfight? The master of swords? Get outta here.
I really hated almost everything about Alice and her mother as characters and relationships go. Alice is the love interest for Tom Ward, our primary protagonist. She flirts with him but there is no real sizzle in their flirtation. She’s a spy for our primary villain. Her mother is the villain’s sister. Very weak building of this mother-daughter relationship. Even weaker sister relationship.
The love story felt so FORCED. I mean, it takes off (I guess…. “takes off”) when she is skinny dipping near where our protagonists have set up camp. She comes out of the water and touches Tom’s hand and OOH! A blue spark! When a witch holds hands with the one who she is meant to hold hands with for the first time under moonlight, there will appear a blue spark. This is almost verbatim and I remember it this well only because it was so stupid and ridiculous. Serendipity had a firmer grasp of destiny than this movie did. The two of them randomly sleep together. “Do you love me?” “Of course.” THERE IS NO REASON FOR YOU TO SAY OF COURSE. And then she loves him enough to steal back this mystical talisman but not enough to not spy on him?
And when she steals the talisman, her mother is willing to fight her sister who she fears so much to defend her daughter? She is willing to die for her daughter when we really see no indication of this kind of devotion to anyone besides her sister? (Out of fear) The mother character is the only secondary villain who is white and she just… adds nearly nothing to the story. She brings nothing to the table and is given nothing to work with.
There is a lot of lazy storytelling that many movies are guilty of. Why is this talisman so important? How was Tom’s mother able to steal it from Mother Malkin in the first place? How was she able to hide being a witch? Does this mean that Tom’s sisters are witches, if Alice is a witch with a witch mother and human father? DON’T ASK QUESTIONS LIKE THIS you will not get answers.
There is one other PoC in this and it’s an innocent Asian fisherman, I suppose, who is on a raft. Gregory and Tom jump off a cliff into the water below and this kind fisherman helps them onto his raft. A monster jumps down and everyone is in the water and then…….. WHERE DID THIS KINDLY FISHERMAN GO? Why bother with this little character at all if you won’t have him reappear somewhere? Just have them climb onto a rock or some floating debris if you are going to do this seriously why.
There are too many things for me to complain about but just… this was very sloppy filmmaking. Waste of great visual effects. Waste of really great actors. Waste of what was probably a great story. (I haven’t read The Spook’s Apprentice, the book this movie is based on.)
Don’t waste your time seeing it, and if this review has made you curious… wait until it’s on Netflix or something.