Monday, 17 February 2014

Priest (2011)

If I said 'wuxia vampire cyberpunk western', you'd probably imagine a movie more exciting than this.

Not that Priest is terrible, or even boring. It's just a bit pedestrian. I lay some of the blame for this at the feet of Paul Bettany, and/or the director. Bettany's performance is extremely stoic, depicting a man who is very tightly controlled, methodical and practical. That probably seemed like a suitable characterisation for the role, but it makes it hard to really care about the man or empathise with him. They were probably going to laconic badass, but they only managed half of it.

The film begins by telling us that there have always been two races; humans and vampires; locked in an unending war. I somehow missed that while I was growing up, but then I did always have my head in a book. In any case, humanity eventally won the war when they developed the Priests, super duper fighters who could defeat the vampires in hand to hand because ... well, the movie never really explains where the Priests got their superhuman speed and strength. Out of a cereal box, maybe. The vampires were defeated but not destroyed: instead they were resettled on 'reservations', a term for what are clearly prisons that was no doubt deliberately chosen for its resonance with the old west.

Of course, some time after the war ended, the vampires are ready for a second round, and this time they have a secret weapon (Karl Urban, once again doing his best to elevate a film to watchability). They kidnap Bettany's niece as their opening gambit, and he sets out to get her back. Or kill her if she's been infected.

The film's call-backs to the wild west are numerous and obvious: we have hoverbikes as cyberpunk horses, the railroad playing a significant role in the narrative, even a travelling snake oil salesman. It's shame more wasn't done with that. But then 'It's a shame more wasn't done with that' is something of a theme for the film. For instance, it sets up a nice parallel between the opening fight and the climactic battle, then fails to properly follow through on it.

I'm also disinclined to like the film's subtext that self-denial is the key to strength/goodness while the pursuit of pleasure is the hallmark of evil.

Dodgy subtext and 'didn't quite get there' elements aside, this is a harmless enough bit of SF movie fluff. If the four word description in my first sentence appeals to you at all, you'll probably find it a tolerable way to spend 90 minutes. You're not likely to find anything very memorable here though.

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