USA, 2011: Priest
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
A veteran vampire killer, one of the priests of the old war, defies the church to investigate a pack of vampires that kidnapped his niece.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Korean comic series that this film was loosely based on, and was totally prepared to hate the thing before walking into the theater. Director Scott Stewart’s interpretation of Priest is completely different from the source material, to the point of wondering why they even chose to go with that franchise. Instead of the weird western quasi-religious horror story that Hyung Min-woo first wrote, Stewart and writer Cory Goodman give us a fairly bland and predictable post-apocalyptic dystopia story. The script is full of genre tropes and clichés, but the absurdity of it all actually improves its entertainment value. If you’re into riffing bad films, this is a doozie. Paul Bettany, who also starred in Stewart’s last film Legion, does his best to channel Clint Eastwood and John Rambo simultaneously, portraying a hero haunted by the past war and jaded far beyond normal humans. It’s a pretty boring character, but I suppose it gets the job done. Karl Urban’s villain, on the other hand, is a joy to watch and shows he clearly had a great time while shooting. He gives his best Batman impression for the full 90 minutes, and hams it up every chance he gets. Maggie Q also stars as another warrior priest and gets the chance to work her acting chops, even if it feels a bit out of place compared to everything else. Although nothing in the story really relates back to Hyung’s extensive comic series, the silliness of the whole thing might make it worth watching anyway.
The visuals provided by Stewart’s team of art directors are probably the most impressive part of the movie. The aesthetics are a cool blend of industrial punk technology and Wild West elements, all layered over with an overbearing amount of religious symbolism. It creates a unique universe that’s both compelling and interesting, which is a shame considering how lackluster the overall narrative is. The photography and score are suitably epic, but also end up feeling derivative and generic as a result. Special mention should be made to Tippett Studio, who animated a fantastic opening sequence to aid the exposition over the first few minutes.
Despite being a primary selling point over the film, the action is not particularly strong here. It’s passable, but the choreography and camerawork just isn’t terribly engaging. Furthermore, neither Bettany nor Urban are that graceful or commanding as action stars, taking away a lot from the potential excitement. Still, despite all these flaws, Priest can be a fairly entertaining, if dumb, waste of time at the matinee or in the bargain bin. As long as you remove any preconceptions about it from the original comic work, it functions pretty well as a generic sci-fi action movie.
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