Considering how hot high fantasy and young adult fiction are these days it comes as no surprise that a studio would attempt a hybrid of the two. What is surprising is that “Seventh Son” is as watchable as it is. By no means is it the second coming of “The Lord of the Rings” (but then neither was “The Hobbit”), but it accomplishes what so few genre flicks do these days: It’s a brisk, diverting slice of B-grade escapism cheese.
Much of that comes courtesy of Jeff Bridges rocking the single most bizarre accent since Jon Voight’s interpretive “Paraguayan” patois in “Anaconda”. Bridges plays Sir Gregory, a crusty and dissolute last remaining knight of a secret order of witch-hunters. Business is good, aside from the fact that his apprentices tend to have a high mortality rate. When Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), an old nemesis with whom Gregory shares a complicated past, escapes from confinement and begins a bloody rise to power, Gregory drafts young peasant Thomas Ward (Ben Barnes) as his new sidekick.
Ward has his own mysterious background: He’s the mythical seventh son of a seventh son, “gifted” with clairvoyant visions accompanied by the occasional seizure. To complicate matters further, he’s falling for Malkin’s comely nice, Alice (Alice Vikander) – a definite no-no, since she too is a witch. This is young adult fiction after all. so tortured teen romance is a prerequisite. Fortunately, Tom and Alice’s courtship is far less cloying than most and falls well short of the stilted love triangle of the “Twilight” series.
Barnes fares better than the usual cardboard young actors saddled with such a stock role; he actually manages to flesh-out the underwritten Tom with some charisma and gravitas, and avoids being shoved into the background by Bridges’ exceedingly eccentric performance. It’s also a blast to watch the Dude square off against Moore as she revels in a rare villainess role, slinking rather than vamping her way through it.
It’s pulpy, by-the-book stuff, but director Sergei Bodrov and the gaggle of screenwriters are savvy enough to get the story going quickly (kicking it off with a Raimi-esque prologue) and keep it moving with some nicely paced action, comedy, and drama beats. It also squeezes a lot out of a relatively paltry $95 million budget, with a great production design by Dante Ferretti and effects work by John Dykstra, the latter of whom channels the spirit of Ray Harryhausen into his monster designs. They give the movie the air of a Saturday afternoon creature feature, and imbue it with the lighthearted sense of fun and wonder missing from the current spate of bloated fantasy “epics”.