Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Generic Fantasy: Seventh Son & Last Knights

2014, Sergey Bodruv (Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan) -- download
2015, Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern) -- download

As the seventh son of a seventh son of a D&D player, it is my destiny to see all movies in the swords & ______ genres. Hell, in these days since Lord of the Rings has entered into cinematic pop culture, and generic fantasy emerging with a power of its own, I should expect to see more of calibre, right? Game of Thrones solidified that, right?

Sigh.

I am still rather surprised that the number of features green lit since the popularity of Lord of the Rings is actually quite minimal. Let's see, ignoring the teen magic ones (Potter and his ilk), we get the Clash of the Titans remakes, the quickly forgotten Conan reboot, the Narnia adaptations (and some other teen novel adaptations early on), and even more fairy tale adaptations, such as Snow White & the Huntsman. Not only minimal in number, but so low in quality for the most part.

Sigh.

And yet I pretty much see them all. Its required. I cannot forsake my destiny, can I ?

Seventh Son is an adaptation of the YA novels, the Wardstone Chronicles, or The Last Apprentice series. In this world, Spooks root out and slay the monsters that pester people. Gregory is the last Spook and seeks an apprentice to take his mantle and wield his magic arsenal. But a witch from Gregory's past breaks her chains to not only kill off Gregory's apprentice (Kit Harrington!) but to try and take over the world.

Jeff Bridges is playing Gregory in a brilliant / inane role that merges his previously played, tabacky chewing rural bumpkins, with weird moustaches and even weirder accents. Think Rooster Cogburn or Roy, the dead cowboy cop from R.I.P.D. To be quite honest, I rather enjoyed the character -- suited up in black stained cloak & hood, ever skilled and inestimably cynical. He is sort of a Witcher for teens.

Tom (Ben Barnes) is the new apprentice, after the witch (Julianne Moore) kills Kit.

Ugh, I want to say more about the plot, but really, its by the book, pun intended. Apprentice learns trade, distrusts master monster hunter, learns of his own inner destiny while learning to trust said master, finally going up against the Big Bad, and surpassing the master in skill. There is nothing wrong with doing a classic fantasy hero story but there needs to be something outstanding about the execution. The effects are only decent, the world building is next to nil and the supporting villain cast is kind of racist. White people save the world from exotic dark skinned villains from other parts of the world, yada yada; yawn. Yawn at the tired trope, not at the dislike of said trope.

There should be something here to latch onto, to enjoy. I enjoyed The Huntsman and the Clash movies so I should be able to find something here, right? Hrrm. Maybe I need another viewing. I need to see if I am less bored with the female supporting (i.e. love interest) now that I know its Alicia Vikander from Ex-Machina.

Meanwhile, the remake of the classic story previously covered in 47 Ronin, is Last Knights. Generic fantasy? Shouldn't it be considered a heroic Japanese story? Well, yes, if it was set in Japan like the other adaptation. But no, they chose to separate by being set in a unnamed generic fantasy world, replacing ronin samurai with lordless knights. You cannot blame them, as the timing was too close, but its rather ironic that the Japanese story was directed by a white man, and the white dominated cast story is directed by a Japanese man. Ironic but irrelevant, if you ask me.

There is a stylistic choice present in this movie that makes it rather attractive. The world building may be as lacking as the other movie, presenting just enough to know that this loyal order of knights (and their code of ethics) is in decline, in an Empire served more and more by corrupt politicians. Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman) is a lord of this knightly order, rankled to have bow down to officials demanding bribes. Clive Owen is his raised-from-the-streets commander who suggests caution in this new world. The conversations between the two are long and wordy, just the way I like them, suggesting some thought to the script.

As expected, circumstances lead to Lord Bartok's death and disgrace in the eyes of the emperor. His fall means the fall of his entire family & followers, his castle burned to the ground and the dispersal of all his lands. Clive Owen's Raiden (no electrical powers) falls as his master does, returning to the drink and debauchery that Bartok raised him from. The rest of the followers (no need to stick to 47 here), as lordless knights, turn to other work and a plan to have vengeance for their master's death.

The execution of this story is rather masterful, as colorful and decorated as it should be. Settings are great, costuming is grand and sweeping but there was a disturbing sense of emotional detachment to it all. You just never had enough character to latch onto. The world building is great, although minimal (focused?), and it was great to get rid of the white washing of the characters. This is an empire that conquered all four corners of their world ages ago, melding becoming the norm, like in my own D&D games. But I wish some more attention had been paid to pacing and character, for I never felt entirely present with the lead characters.

Still, I enjoyed it. But not enough to add to The Shelf.