Solomon Kane, Movie Review: Predictable and grim

Based on the fact that I couldn’t catch a 3D showing of Avatar, I went to see Solomon Kane at the weekend. This decision was buoyed on by the TV trailer, which was stuffed full of fantasy goodness – grim battles and even grimmer weather.

The plot is a simple one – Solomon Kane is the leader of a ruthless band of thugs, who love nothing more than the killing of villagers and the looting of kingdoms. Even when his henchmen are being picked off left, right and center by a bunch of grotesque mirror demons, he snarls at them that he’s the biggest devil they’re ever likely to meet.

However, after too-short introduction to Kane’s dark side, he’s confronted by a minion of the devil who tells him that Satan claims his soul. Kane escapes, and takes refuge in a monastry, where we catch up with him a year later – he has renounced his evil ways and pledged himself to the church. Unluckily for Kane, the church don’t want him around, in case the devil catches up with him…so they kick him out.

The story proper begins when Kane begins to travel with a family who are setting out for the new world. Presumably to escape the many evils that are lurking in the English countryside. When the sleeping family are attacked in the middle of the night, all the males are slain and the only daughter is kidnapped as Kane looks on. For most of the confrontation, Kane refuses to engage in violence in case it leads the devil back to him. By the time he picks up a weapon and wipes the enemy out, the father is fatally wounded, so he promises to save the daughter – setting off on a redemptive journey across the English countryside.

Right, I’ll spare you further plot recaps. In review, there are many great things about Solomon Kane. First – how refreshing to have a fantasy epic set in the English countryside. Second – praise for James Purefoy’s grim leading performance, which Den of Geek described as “he growls his way through the script like a West Country Batman“. Indeed, Purefoy helms this movie brilliantly and you can feel the conviction of Kane as the story progresses. The scene where Kane is crucified before discovering Meredith is still alive is perhaps as personally gruesome a scene I’ve ever encountered in a movie.

However, it’s the kind of fantasy movie where they’ve crammed in everything and the kitchen sink. Tortured hero on quest for redemption? Check. Brother who we thought was dead but returned as a rampaging psycho? Check. Father who should’ve been dead, but turns up in time to have a reconciliation scene? Yup.

Even from the first scene, it was possible to guess ahead – the corridor of eerie mirrors? Yes, they’re magic mirrors with devils inside them. Surprise! And a couple of Lord Of The Rings rip-offs: the rampaging mercenaries looked too much like Peter Jackson’s Orcs for my liking, and that final battle with a Balrog-like fire monster? Jaysus, make it stop! I found myself agreeing with this review on FilmJunk:

The main problem I had with this movie was that it was boring.  It follows a familiar path that never adds anything new.    Lost soul that finds the error of his ways?  I’ve seen that a hundred times.  It’s a story criticsim and in an era of film making that is jam-packed with re-boots and remakes, I need a little more than that.

I’ve read a stack of reviews that are clearly glad that the genre may be facing a revival, and those reviews are positive, perhaps more for the optimism of what might emerge rather than for Solomon Kane itself. What was most disappointing about the movie – and I wanted to like it – is that so much effort is evident in the production – the cast are first rate, particularly Purefoy and Pete Postelthwaite and Rachel Hurd-Wood, and the grim 1500’s English countryside is brilliantly realised. Unfortunately, the story was so contrived and predictable that it undermined all of those positive aspects.

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