After an encounter with a demon who tells him his soul is bound for hell, a mercenary renounces his ways of violence for a life of peace, but when he’s forced to travel back to his homeland, his vow of peace is tested.
Okay, I’m going to preface this review like most of the other ones in the Conan/ Robert E Howard series I’m doing and say right away that this isn’t a good movie, but I certainly enjoyed it more than I should’ve. Out of the six films I review for this series, this is the one that I’d probably recommend with the least amount of misgivings. All of the films in this series are schlocky, poorly executed sword and sorcery movies, but at this one is fast paced, has interesting story ideas, is super grim, and its a lot of fun.
"There are many paths to redemption, and not all of them are peaceful."
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Almost immediately, I could tell this film was going to be right up my alley. We first meet Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, “A Knight’s Tale”) when he's locked in bloody battle. He’s raiding a castle, slaughtering people left and right, including his own men, should they refuse to stay. Kane is heartless, probably even evil when we first see him, and that makes for an interesting, though unlikable, protagonist. The film immediately lets you know what kind of world we’re in, too, by showing strange, wraith-like creatures hiding behind the glass of a row of mirrors. Even from the beginning, we know magic will be a part of this world, but not just magic; dark magic. Entering the throne room of the castle, Kane is confronted by a hulking reaper, who tells him that the devil has sent him to claim his soul. Kane hurls himself out a window, escaping the demon and saving his life, for now. This all happens within the first five minutes of the film. From there we rejoin Kane a while later. He’s taken a vow of peace, and lives at a monastery, but the monks living there tell him he can no longer stay, he must return home, where he is (of course) a royal heir to the throne.
One of the reasons I actually enjoy this film more than I should is because it might be the best cinematic example of a small subgenre of fantasy called Grimdark. Grimdark stories are, as their name implies, grim and dark. This fantasy film feels gritty and gross; the protagonist revels in killing people, saying he never felt more alive than when he was in battle. Even the minor characters in this film hold dark secrets, and evil magic lurks around every corner. I love fantasy books like this; when they’re done right they can feel almost like horror fantasy epics instead of just run of the mill sword and sorcery pulp. This film has moments that are absolutely brilliant for the genre, and it has some of the cooler creatures, fight scenes, and fantastical settings I’ve seen on a lower-budget fantasy film. This is a fantasy movie for hardcore fantasy fans, people who don’t mind a little blood and gore beside their magic; it’s like Game of Thrones if in Westeros dark magic was common as wildflowers, and executions were everyday occurrences. The worlds in fantasy films are just as important to me as the execution of it. I realize that because the film does not have a hundred million dollar budget, some of the effects in this movie will be lacking, but I’m willing to forgive it that because the attempt was there. There are plenty of ideas in this movie that are fascinating, but the execution was sometimes lacking.
Perhaps where this film lacked most was, sadly, the fault of the lead. James Purefoy walks around this entire movie with a scowl etched across his face. He’s incredibly one note, and all of his dialogue is muttered and gravelly. It’s as if James Purefoy saw David Boreanaz’s brooding in Buffy and Angel and decided he could brood better. I have a feeling either the director or Purefoy himself thought this would make Kane feel like more of a rebel, but in reality his gruff approach makes some of the dialogue rather laughable. Funny enough, this film included Max von Sydow (“Hour of the Wolf”) as Kane’s father, and the king of Kane’s homeland; I say this is funny because Max also played a King in Conan the Barbarian (1982), was only in each film for about five minutes, and in booth movies he acted circles around the leads. I’m guessing von Sydow is probably an even bigger of a fan of fantasy and Robert E Howard than I. The late Pete Postlethwaite (“In the Name of the Father”) was also far better than our lead; his character actually showed a decent range of emotion without completely overblowing the performance.
Another lacking element was the dialogue, which seems to be the case with a lot of fantasy films. This movie attempts to have a sort of old timey speak, but never really hits the notes that would make the dialogue ring. Instead, the dialogue usually feels clunky and stilted, and sometimes it is quite laughable. Again, I’m sort of used to this in fantasy films, so while the cinephile in me it’s can't look past that entirely, it is a thing that I’ve come to expect with this genre.
I believe I’ve said this in every review in this series, so it won’t hurt to do it one more time: this film is not for everybody, and that’s okay. I’m sure some of my snootier cinephile friends are snickering that I’d want to watch any of these films, much less dedicate hours upon hours of my time to writing reviews, reading about Howard, and defending my stance on schlocky sword and sorcery films. That’s all right, they can scoff all they want. The truth is, I enjoy these films, not as a cinephile but as a fan of fantasy. I get super excited for fantasy films, and I know that many pretentious cinephiles will count that against me, but if you cant get excited about the little things in life that bring you joy, then life gets rather dreary. This movie may not be great, but it certainly entertained me for an hour and forty minutes, and I can almost guarantee that I’ll return to this film sometime in my life.
Do you like the schlocky sword and sorcery worlds of Robert E Howard? Then check out more films like this in our An Age Undreamed Of series.
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