As is only fair with most reviews I write, I need to disclose something first, so please try not to judge me. I… oh, dear god, I’m not sure I can say it out loud, I… I love Hawk The Slayer. Not in the ironic sense that it’s a low budget, ropey piece of 80s sword and sorcery, that most people just as soon throw rotting fruit at and jeer, but in the very real way, that only a boy who watched it too many times growing up can. Not just Hawk, though, but Krull, Dragonslayer and Clash Of The Titans too. As for Beastmaster, well, that didn’t age quite so well, but I still love it.
The reason I mention the above films is that, if you love them too, then there’s a fair chance you’ll feel the same way about Solomon Kane.
The sword and sorcery genre boomed in the 80s, but has been mostly neglected since, I suspect because, without a budget to create an immersive world, the whole genre risks the danger of looking naff on the big screen rather than at home on a fuzzy VHS tape.
Therefore, it was an incredibly brave decision by director Michael J. Bassett to make such a genre film, as his relatively low budget was reported to be around the 40 million dollar mark, a little short of The Lord Of The Rings’ kitty. Thankfully, Solomon Kane succeeds in passing its relatively low budget by using it wisely and putting everything on screen, which, combined with a lot of fantastic sword fights and strong performances, help it to take a step above its predecessors, yet below Rings thanks to the obvious lack of budget and, therefore, truly epic spectacle. Here’s hoping this Kane is a success so we can see a grander visualisation if the planned trilogy goes ahead.
Unfortunately, the other main drawback to making a fantasy film is always the dialogue, and Kane is no exception. When dealing in the fantastical it’s incredibly hard to write lines that avoid either being cringeworthy, or unintentionally hysterical, especially when dealing with such dramatic subject matter as one man’s redemption of his cursed soul. Yet, to James Purefoy’s credit (as Solomon Kane) he shouts and growls his way through the script like a West Country Batman, with the kind of poker face that would make Lady GaGa proud. It didn’t prove to be too much of a problem for me, though, as I’m quite at home with such lines as, “My soul is miiiine!” and even more placated when it’s being shouted in the face of a demonic wraith, who happens to be holding an effing great fire sword. That’s right. I said FIRE SWORD.
Kane’s other weakness stems from trying to cram in too many contrived plot points, which mostly suffer from being painfully obvious, yet completely unbelievable and pointless. The film would have served itself so much better by being a simple ‘man on a mission’ movie, as it does that aspect very well.
Taking those points into account and then combining them at certain points with exceptionally ‘convenient’ narrative events, you might find yourself slapping your forehead in disbelief. Oh, and I could’ve done without the ham fisted, religious iconography too. It seemed unnecessary and inappropriate.
Enough of the negative, though, as every other aspect was thoroughly enjoyable. Where Kane really excels is in the action scenes, more particularly in the horror-driven scenes, kick starting with the opening sequence in which Kane and his men find themselves in a hall of mirrors, just before a certain fire sword makes an appearance.
The strong creature design by the excellent Patrick Tatopoulos is also a great asset to the film, as it shines through in both the refreshingly physical effects and the CGI moments, too. It’s also worth noting that Bassett’s previous two features were both low budget British horror movies, Deathwatch and Wilderness (both solid films in their own way), so it makes sense that his direction is that much more confident and assertive when the monsters and blood are cut loose on screen.
Without spoiling anything (don’t watch the trailer by the way), there is one scene in particular that stood head and shoulders above anything else in the film and involves Solomon making a definitive choice, one which places him in utter conflict and it’s absolutely brilliant. For me, it was a triumphant five star moment in an otherwise good film, made by the performances, the threat and the resolution. It really heightened the quality of the film and showed how much potential there could be with a slightly tighter script in future instalments, and I can’t wait to see what others make of it.
As well as the excellent and underappreciated Purefoy (whom you might know from TV’s Rome, Resident Evil or even his cameo in A Knight’s Tale), there is great support from a cast which includes geek genre favourites such as Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Mackenzie Crook and even Max von Sydow. Yet, the revelation for me was relative newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood. A quick IMDB search reveals her to have only been in a few films (including a start in 2003’s Peter Pan and more recently Dorian Gray), yet there was something utterly compelling about her screen presence, conveying a mix of pure childish innocence, with an adult strength behind her eyes that is quite rare, especially as most on screen ‘British Rose’-type performances normally have me gritting my teeth – the same effect as nails down a blackboard.
Solomon Kane will be a three star film for most people, I would imagine, but for its bravery to tackle a tricky genre (just look at the Dungeons And Dragons movie for how wrong it can go, or rather don’t), for the copious amounts of exciting sword fights, the stand out scene I mentioned above, the performances, the use of proper monsters and its headier moments of violence, I’m giving it four stars and look forward to seeing more.
Solomon Kane opens on UK cinemas 19 February.