Starring Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer
Director Scott Stewart
Released August 25
If you haven't been under a rock for the last few months then you might not be wary of Priest 3D. The legendary Korean comic (manhwa) created by Hyung Min-woo finally made it to the big screen in a big way in the US and was then met by an internet with folded arms and a grim 'no thanks'. It has a Rotten Tomatoes metascore of 17%.
Coming in, I was expecting something truly eye-gougingly bad, but emerged surprised. It's really not as bad as you might think.
For fans of the comics, it only bears a passing resemblance to the original story. The screen version does however retain the blend of the horror and western themes.
If you do think you might like to watch a film that has a post apocalyptic vampire western feel then Priest 3D has a chance. If you've had it up to here with vampires, you might even still be interested - the vampires in Priest 3D are more thinking beasts than sparkly brooders.
Set in an alternate world where warring humans and vampires have devastated the planet, humans live in walled cities, vampires live in reservations and vast lifeless plains cover the world. The deciding factor in the war that lead to the victory for humans - the priests, a superhuman group of men, trained in vampire combat, just as fast and strong as their vicious, beast-like opponents.
Now the war has ended, and these elite soldiers are outcast, warriors without a fight. The Church runs the world, enforcing political policy with religious fervour. To disobey The Church is to disobey God.
A cameo from Trueblood's Stephen Moyer and Twin Peaks' Madchen Amick is rudely cut short by a vampire attack. Their daughter is stolen, and her only living relative is the Priest (Paul Bettany), who still suffers nightmares from his vampire-fighting days. Called to action by local sheriff, Cam Gigandet, he has to defy the church to hunt for her in the wastelands beyond the cities. In keeping with the western theme, the hell-for-leather ride to save the girl is straight of the John Ford classic, The Searchers.
If you like epic shots of souped-up Sci Fi motorbikes screaming across desert wastelands, THIS is the movie for you.
The wasteland/western theme with a Sci Fi twist brings to mind Firefly and Mad Max, and the desert/walled cities theme seems straight out of Judge Dredd. The vampires look to have been designed just down the hall from someone working on early Resident Evil, and the cinematography owes a great deal to the blue wash style of the Underworld films. Priest 3D doesn't surprise with an entirely new world, but it does give us a collage of tropes to give us something familiar - with a twist. This can be comforting, or deathly dull.
Paul Bettany leaves nothing behind in his role as the titular character. He commits completely, and to be fair, he is one of the great vampire hunters. A man of few words, with great moves and gadgets, he gets the job done. An undeniable capital 'B' Badass. Maggie Q - more of the same.
Bad guy Karl Urban as 'Black Hat' - loving it. A bit over the top (as you'd expect from a Sci Fi/Vampire bad guy), he is one of the more interesting baddies we've seen on screen for a while. Brad Dourif has a weaselly cameo as well. Christopher Plummer as Monsignor Orelas, still can command a screen with a voice and presence that is magnetic.
Sadly, good actors have been saddled with some poor 80's action dialogue that seems to have been dumped on them to make the movie more 'cool' - sadly resulting in the opposite effect. What might have been a simple, pure samurai story becomes a tale that lacks the commitment to stick to its original intention, diluting the cool, and making Cam Gigandet look ridiculous.
Couple that with a third act that seems to have been curtailed, resulting in an unsatisfying finale, and then a coda that starts the sequel right then and there, and you have too many errors in judgement to win popular acclaim. With a script that suffers from a third act that is more second act turning point and a twist that is intellectually interesting but not emotionally engaging, well - it's not surprising it's been given a hard time by critics.
Still, if you're looking for a new twist on the vampire myth, love Karl Urban and Paul Bettany, and have a soft spot for apocalyptic western styled Sci Fi with dystopian themes, you might want to roll the dice and check this out on the big screen.