When Eddie Murphy was nominated for an Oscar for Dreamgirls, but lost to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine in spite of being the category’s frontrunner, a fair share of the blame for his loss went to the dumping of the critically-panned Norbit just as Oscar voting was underway. So the question on my mind going into Seventh Son, which makes its way to theaters nearly two years after its original release date, was this: is this film bad enough to derail the chances of Best Actress frontrunner Julianne Moore (Still Alice)?
The good news is that it’s not that bad. Unfortunately, it’s also not good, in spite of the presence of both Moore and Jeff Bridges in two of the film’s main roles. If anything, the film feels derivative of at least a dozen other fantasy films that have hit screens in the past several years. A setting that feels roughly a millennium old? Check. Wise, mysterious, bitter mentor figure who’s getting too old for this stuff? Check. Crazy-looking creatures made of CGI that’s already dated? Check. Young hero played by Generic White Actor? Check. Love story with characters who have zero chemistry? Check. Lots of action sequences with questionable use of 3D? Check.
You get the drift.
The film does have some things going for it. There’s something appealing about Jeff Bridges when he appears to be having fun in a role, even if he’s been leaning on that a little too much in recent years. His Gregory flips between fun and deadly serious on a dime, and his larger presence in the film helps sustain it to some degree. Julianne Moore, meanwhile, is an inspired choice for Mother Malkin. Thinking about other films that cast a name actress in the role of a witch, they tend to go with actresses who go more…theatrical. See: Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman), Susan Sarandon (Enchanted). While I don’t have a problem with that kind of performance, and actually enjoy all three of those particular performances, Moore is not that kind of actress. Here, she vamps up when necessary, but typically plays in a lower key more akin to Tilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Unfortunately, their work can’t lift up the rest of the film. They’re unaided by Ben Barnes’ lackluster performance as Tom. It’s not clear exactly how old Tom is supposed to be, but Barnes is a bit too old to play off a sense of wonder or naïveté that would make the character more effective. At least Barnes gets a good scene partner with Bridges most of the time. The film’s weakest moments come when he’s paired with the not-so-mysterious Alice (Alicia Vikander), with whom he shares no chemistry whatsoever.
The film is also saddled with action sequences that are largely competent, but rarely exciting. They’re actually staged fairly well, but are encumbered by a 3D conversion job that ends up revealing the limits of the CGI budget on this film. It’s a shame, because there are some interesting elements to the film that would benefit from a financial boost – namely sequences involving Mother Malkin and the other witches, who take on various animal forms in part or in whole throughout the film.
Given the film’s release date, it’s clear that someone at Legendary Pictures over the last few years realized the bomb they had on their hands. With some of the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, it’s not the worst-case scenario that the repeated delays might indicate. It’s still not the sign of a strong product, though, and whatever audience this film might have will be better served elsewhere.