Oh Dear God. Someone gave director Scott Stewart (not enough) money to make another fantasy film. They let him put British blandie Paul Bettany in it. Did no-one in Hollywood actually see last year’s pitilessly-poor Legion where Stewart cast Bettany as some sort of angel sent down to earth to ward off the apocalypse from a low-budget diner somewhere in the middle of American nowhere? Does no-one think of the audience?
But I’m being disingenuous for the sake of a few cheap shots. Priest is nothing like as bad as Legion (it’d be difficult) but it’s really not especially good and it’s certainly not particularly memorable. But at least it appears to be making an effort and Stewart clearly has a vision he wants to put on the screen, even if his budget won’t quite let him. I’m always wary of films which info-dump by way of long, tedious voiceovers but Priest gets away with it by virtue of a clever and atmospheric animated sequence depicting the ages-long struggle between man and vampires which forms the spine of the movie. It seems that the vampire scourge was ultimately wiped out by a bunch of super-powered priests (honestly) who themselves fell into disrepute when the vampires were beaten. But not everyone believes the vampires have been exterminated and when our nameless priestly hero’s niece is captured, he sets off to either rescue her or kill her if she’s been infected by the undead.
Priest quickly abandons its effective and rather-impressive walled-city environment (where humanity has retreated post-vampire) for a more budget-friendly featureless desert landscape across which the priest can race on his super-bike (the only high-tech concession on display) before pitching into battle with ugly, balletic and all-too-obviously CGI vampires.
Priest, inspired by a Korean comic book, apparently, rips off…sorry, pays homage to all sorts of better source material from Blade Runner to The Searchers and while it’s fitfully enjoyable and there are some decent high-powered action sequences (Bettany is starting to take to the ‘action hero’ role a bit better now) its brief running time (just under ninety minutes) means it never really gets into high gear. There isn’t enough time to develop any plot or decent characterisation and the final face-off between the priest and the bad guy Black Hat is over and done with before it’s even started. At the end of the movie the priest tries to convince the city elders that the vampire threat still exist but they’re having none of it. The priest roars off on his big bike, heading towards further exciting adventures; I’m willing to bet we don’t get to see any of them on screen because this looks suspiciously like yet another still-born would-be franchise with ideas above its potential. Oh, it’s in 3D too which, of course, means things appear to be flying out of the screen or look as if they’re going to poke you in the eye. Tired of this gimmick now, thanks; if you can’t use the technology to improve the actual story-telling can we just have our normal 2D pictures back now please?
Expected rating 5