Fantasy is a tough genre for movies to get right because it plays into Hollywood’s worst qualities—in bad fantasy, for instance, preestablished rules simply don’t apply when the writer doesn’t want them to apply. Further, fantasy tends to include a lot of destiny, which is the single most-abused crutch of lazy screenwriters, and has a tendency to over-rely on exposition. I haven’t read The Spook’s Apprentice, the novel on which Seventh Son is based, so I can’t tell you if it’s good fantasy or bad. But I can tell you that Seventh Son is bad fantasy, and it’s also a bad movie.
In a realm that vaguely resembles medieval England, Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a spook, a man who manages the relationship between normal humans and the supernatural world. Spirits flit about, but they don’t really bother anybody; the big problem is witches. A long time ago, Gregory locked up the meanest witch of all, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), but she finally escapes (thanks to the enchanted light of a blood moon; Malkin also likes to eat blood cakes, in case you weren’t already sure she’s the bad guy). Now, Malkin plans to destroy the world with the help of a murderous army, including a guy who turns into a giant lizard (played by Djimon Hounsou, who really deserves better than the lackey roles he’s been getting lately), a woman who turns into a cheetah, and a toad guy who ought to be named Cannon Fodder. Only Gregory, with the help of his new apprentice, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes, bland as beige wallpaper), can stop her.
Bridges and Moore demonstrate the two courses gifted actors can take when they’re cast in a paycheck-friendly, special-effects-laden movie. Moore basically gives up in the first scene, doing little more than reading the (admittedly awful) lines she’s given. Her character is your typical movie witch, an unrepentantly evil lady who wears a lot of black leather and increasingly elaborate eye makeup, and Moore does nothing extra to liven the character up. But Bridges does his typical Bridges thing, playing a curmudgeonly old alcoholic and seemingly having the time of his life as he does it. There’s nothing in Seventh Son’s script to warrant Bridges’s enthusiasm, but he gives it anyway, adding a little bit of sparkle to the parade of lackluster, predictable scenes he’s given.
For God’s sake, if you must see Seventh Son, don’t waste the extra money on 3-D, because it will add nothing to your experience. Hell, most of the digital effects aren’t even worth your time in 2-D—the effects vary from kinda impressive (an early sequence showing the passage of time during Malkin’s captivity) to ’90s-level bad (the witchcraft involves a lot of wobbly-looking digital lines smeared across the screen). Sergey Bodrov’s direction is at least competent, following the action clearly enough. But great swaths of the movie feel interminable, in part because the direction is so bland.
In the end, Seventh Son is not aggressively bad—it’s better, for example, than the Nicolas Cage–starring Season of the Witch, which dealt with similar subject matter. But it is forgettable, and it is boring, and it is predictable. If Julianne Moore can’t even be bothered to act in the movie, why should you be expected to buy a ticket?