I had my approach to reviewing this movie all thought out. I was gonna say of course it's an adaptation of a Korean manhwa, what with its hodge-podge of sci-fi, fantasy and horror tropes. I was gonna rip into Hyung Min-Woo's obscure (well, to me) comic for being the most ridiculously clichéd manga imaginable, yet its sheer ridiculousness is most likely the reason why a dumb gaijin like director Scott Stewart thought it awesome enough to make a movie out of. And then I found out that the movie has almost nothing in common with its supposed source material, so now I have to leave Mr. Hyung's work out of my snark. It may be awesome for all I know.
But not the movie. The movie is just bad.
It is a world that has been ravaged by a millenia-old war between mankind and vampires. But after the Catholic Church developed the ultimate weapon against vampires - the warrior Priests - the war finally ended, with vampires confined to reservations and humans living in giant walled cities ruled by the clergy. And the Priests? Reduced to working menial jobs, their services no longer needed. Then one of them (Paul Bettany) receives word that the vampires are on the rampage again, and have kidnapped his niece Lucy (Lily Collins). He teams up with frontier sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and sets out to find her, in defiance of his Church superior (Christopher Plummer), who sends out another team of Priests - and one Priestess (Maggie Q) - after him. But soon they will all face the leader of a new vampire army (Karl Urban) - a former Priest himself, now turned into a new breed of vampire.
Gaah. Sense, this movie makes none. Why are the Priests, who we're told single-handedly won the vampire war, now shunned and reviled by the populace? Or even by the Church, who stupidly refuse to believe the vampire threat even exists anymore and would rather waste time and resources to prevent someone from proving it does? I was ready to call the big plot twist that the evil religious fundies are actually in cahoots with the vampires, but it didn't go there - but I'm not about to give it credit for avoiding that cliché either, since it makes these Church folks even dumber. They live in a world where vampires exist, yet they turn their cities into polluted dystopias that doesn't get sunlight? And what's with these "vampires"? They're pale, naked, eyeless, and seem more like super-zombies than the traditional bloodsuckers. They're supposedly able to infect humans and turn them into vampires, but... how?
The only one who looks and acts like an actual vampire is the black-hatted Big Bad, who later reveals that he's this new and improved "human vampire". That's when I facepalmed. Everything about this movie's premise, setting and plot seem completely arbitrary, like Stewart and his writer Cory Goodman are throwing in everything they think is cool with no regard for common sense; also, they have a particularly asinine idea of what constitutes cool. Its kitchen-sink storyline recalls Sucker Punch, only with a far less cohesive creative vision (yes, Sucker Punch had that); if you thought Zack Snyder's movie was pandering geek-porn, wait'll you get a load of Priest. Most damning is, they don't even have Hyung's manhwa to blame this on. They came up with all this stupidity themselves.
And yet Stewart is clearly trying to go for the Snyder-type comicbook-movie look, with his artfully-composed shots of combatants leaping through the air at each other in slow-motion. Which brings us to the action scenes, usually the saving grace for movies like this - but there ain't much grace it can save when the action scenes are dull and unimaginative, when they aren't being just plain silly. It attempts to earn its horror cred with some jump-scares, most of which are either telegraphed or were spoiled in the trailer. The only real thing I enjoyed watching were the occasional cool bits of production design - the Priests' jet-powered motorbikes, Hicks' double-barreled gun, the vampires' train. And yes, the production designers' ideas of what constitutes cool are a lot more cromulent.
In interviews, Paul Bettany gives the impression that he's buddies with Stewart and enjoys working with him. I certainly hope that's the case, because the alternative is that he makes crappy films like this because his career is in the dumps. In Legion - and my favourable review of that movie may be one of the hardest for me to live down - he effectively lent gravitas to the role of an immortal supernatural being, but the Priest is just a one-dimensional growling, grim-faced badass. (And what's with this annoying affectation of never giving names to any of the Priests anyway??) It's a role that anyone from Steven Seagal to Don "The Dragon" Wilson could've played to equal effect. Cam Gigandet is dull, Karl Urban desperately wants to be a gleefully over-the-top villain in a movie that would rather make him tortured and serious, and Maggie Q... I want to say she looks good, but unfortunately she spends the entire film fully covered.
May I stress that I have nothing against a good genre mash-up; I liked Sucker Punch, f'rinstance. But there's no point trying to make a post-apocalyptic vampire steampunk western featuring kungfu-fighting ecclesiastics if your blend of all these tropes makes no sense. I don't think making sense was high on Stewart's and Goodman's agenda. My impression of them is of two clueless white guys discovering manga and anime for the first time and thinking to transplant its most gratuitous clichés for a Western audience to whom they think this'd all be new and awesome. And I don't think they're familiar with Hyung's comic at all; I think it's just the cheapest property they could purchase and claim to be adapting in an attempt to sucker a few fanboys. I think this is an entirely artless, passionless hackjob, because man, it shows.
NEXT REVIEW: Kongsi
Expectations: suka Shaheizy Sam tapi kurang yakin dengan Farid Kamil