What happens if you mix Mad Max, Blade Runner, Vampire Hunter D, Firefly, Aliens, 1984, the role-playing game Tribe 8 and the pure awesomeness that is Maggie Q? You get Priest. Yes, this film is nothing you haven’t seen before, but you’ve never seen all of it all at once.
Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban
Written by: Cory Goodman
Directed by: Scott Stewart
Genre: Science fiction, action, western, everything else at some point
Rating: 7 out of 10 / B
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS, WHICH ARE A MORTAL SIN! REPENT! REPENT, I SAY!
(This review discusses the 2D version. I make it a personal rule not to see retro-fitted 3D films.)
In an unspecified future time, humanity lives in bleak, walled cities, ruled by a tyrannical Church. The cities were protection during the human-vampire wars, which were finally won with the help of the Church’s elite enforcers, the Priests. After the war, the Priests were disbanded, but they still struggle to fit into normal society. One Priest (Paul Bettany) defies the Church by leaving the City to rescue his niece, who has been kidnapped by Black Hat (Karl Urban), the first human/vampire hybrid. Priest is joined by young sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and a renegade Priestess (Maggie Q), but none of them are aware of the scope of Black Hat’s ultimate plan.
Although the film is based on the Korean comic of the same name, I haven’t read the source material, so I can’t tell how much of this is a faithful adaptation of just a giant pot of genre soup. That’s not as bad as it sounds, really. In the wrong combinations, that formula is extremely unstable and likely to go big badda boom after about five minutes. The pedigree isn’t stellar, either. This is Cory Goodman’s first produced screenplay, and director Scott’s Stewart’s last film was the deadly serious, deadly boring Legion (which also starred Paul Bettany as a man who kicks ass for the Lord). For whatever reason, though, it works…as long as you don’t expect tremendous amounts of depth.
Repent. Or else.
The world of Priest holds a lot of promise, but the film never explores it too deeply. A gorgeous animated prologue sets up the history of the world, but the rest of how things work is left inferred. While the characters thankfully don’t veer off into Exposition Land, they also don’t elaborate on things that could use some elaboration. Where did the vampires come from? Why is the Church the ruling power? The film also never explores the abuse of religious power at the heart of the story aside from a few brief, but interesting touches, such as an artificial intelligence confessional booth.
What keeps the film from being a tedious redo of Legion, however, is the cast. Bettany is a great man-with-no-name (everybody simply calls him Priest), speaking all of his lines through a gravely voice that never comes off like a Christian Bale-sized affectation. As the film progresses, Priest seems to soften (because that’s what has to happen in these films), finally allowing Bettany a full range of facial expressions and vocal tones. Cam Gigandet is…well, he’s very, very cute. He’s an effective action sidekick, but his line readings tend to lack the proper amount of melodrama they need. Karl Urban makes a good villain, seductive and sadistic, but his character seems to have been shorted on his screen time, and he seems curiously flat despite Urban’s honorable efforts to add deeper levels to him.
You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.
Gigandet and Urban are all but forgotten, however, when Maggie Q finally enters the plot. Like Priest, she’s given no proper name, but she’s arguably the most multidimensional character in the film. Maggie fills her dialogue with more weight and drama than it probably deserves, but she always speaks with total confidence and skill. Priestess has a fantastic fight scene with a band of wasteland bandits right after an emotional moment between her and Bettany, and Maggie is equally effective in both. In fact, the fight scenes in general are a major highlight. While occasionally edited too heavily, they’re still thrilling and exciting.
Mother Maggie Superior.
The most interesting part of the film, however, is the vampires themselves. These are not the vampires you’re used to. They’re not suave, they’re not eloquent (in fact they don’t speak at all), and they certainly don’t sparkle. They resemble more than anything the xenomorphs of the Aliens film series. They’re inhuman, faceless, brutal monsters who seek to hunt and propagate their species with the help of familiars, humans tainted with vampire blood. However, the vampires also seem to be fairly intelligent in a highly alien way, implied heavily in the relationships with the familiars. Like the rest of Priest‘s world, vampire society is left frustratingly underdeveloped, but at least the CGI rendering them is impressive, fluid and highly organic.
The film takes itself too seriously to be campy, but it has just enough self-awareness to stop it from being ridiculous. It wisely avoids massive spectacle in favor of tight, effective scenes with a lot of energy. The film is wonderfully paced, and it never gets too heavy or full of itself (although it does occasionally get at least a little full of itself). It’s everything you’ve enjoyed in every genre film you’ve ever seen rolled into one package, although it seems to lose something when added into the sum of its parts. A highly entertaining 90 minutes that never quite reaches truly excellent status, but still worth a viewing for the great characters and fight scenes. This is one missionary man you do NOT want to mess with.
JOHNNY M is FBOTU’s resident film critic and crusader against the forces of evil.<a href="http://www.fanboysoftheuniverse.com/index.php/forums/member/21/" title="