Sometimes, in a sea of movies trying their best, you appreciate a movie that is ambitiously bad. (For example, I appreciated the preview for a horror movie about what happens if you don’t hold your breath as you pass a cemetery, actual thing.)
You want the sort of movie where three times as much money was spent on Fancy Scar Makeup as on script. The sort of movie where it feels like every major decision was presented to someone whose response was, “…Okay, sure!”, and most of those people were British character actors whose numbers had come up in Rent Roulette.
In related news, let’s talk about Solomon Kane.
Extremely short version: “Verily, Those Monsters Stole My Hot Chick – to Battle!”: The Motion Picture.
Short version: Solomon Kane used to be a ruthless mercenary, but after realizing his soul is bound for Hell, he tries to mend his ways and redeem himself as a man of peace. He even falls in with Puritan family the Crowthorns and contemplates following them to America to start a new life (with lovely Meredith Crowthorn? PERHAPS). But evil is spreading across the land, and after 60% of the Crowthorns are brutally slaughtered and Meredith is taken captive by the plot, Solomon is told that the only way to redeem his soul is to kill the shit out of like four hundred dudes. “ON IT,” says Solomon, donning the Buckle Hat of Terror and setting out to seek the sorcerer who took her before he can use Mederith’s virgin blood (actual plot point) to open a gate to Hell and summon Solomon’s soul back to the Big Man. Also during all this it is constantly raining and filthy and someone is playing base cello constantly and there’s a flashback where Solomon shoves his brother right off the edge of a cliff. CINEMA!
Long version: ten things you should know about Solomon Kane.
1. This movie has totally committed to itself, for good and for ill. It’s not just gloomy when you’re stalking evil. It is pouring rain, and England is a sea of mud. Bad guys are not just people with alternate allegiance. They are grimy, scarred, black-eyed hordes of people wearing like five half-jerkins at once. There is never a fight. There is a multiple evisceration set against a backdrop of flames. There is never an incidental score. There is Full Bombast Setting, all the time. And, most importantly, you are never just a late-Elizabethan ex-pirate called out of his evil ways. You are a killing machine who can carry four concealed pistols at once, and your cape is always moving in slow motion as rain sluices off the buckle hat that everyone is trying desperately not to mention.
2. The You in this case is Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, and occasionally Hugh Jackman in the right amount of rain/sadness, giving the role his all). We meet him in North Africa, where he’s slaughtering “North Africans” (your hero, everyone!) and looking for treasure. He marches through a throne room totally stuffed with evil standee mirrors from Anthropologie, and watches his crew get sucked into the netherworld by Silent Hill monsters. But what does he care! Treasure! Including those golden African mask-dolls that were a thing, I guess! (Also, the room has stained glass windows of white ladies. We’re really not sure where exactly in North Africa this is.)
But lo, he’s confronted by the Devil’s Reaper! His time is up, and now he has to go to hell! Weirdly, Solomon is not super into that, and after crying, “I’m not yet ready for hell!”, he escapes the grasp of the King of the Underworld by jumping out the window and into the ocean! I guess Satan has an awful employee reimbursement program, and the Devil’s Reaper is not going to risk any extraneous travel? Whatever it is, Solomon makes it all the way back to England, where he lives in the monastic equivalent of a trailer in someone’s backyard, not willing to commit to the monks, but also afraid that if he leaves, despite his attempts to be a man of peace, the Devil will come for him again. The abbot, hilariously, is like, “He probably will, my son. By the way, I had a dream. Get out.”
3. The Macguffin family! On the road, Solomon gets the bejeezus beat out of him by some robbers, and wakes up to find he’s been semi-adopted by the Puritan Crowthorns. They’re all very kind, especially little Pipsqueak Crowthorn, Daddy Crowthorn, and Meredith Crowthorn. They’re on their way to the New World, and they invite him to walk with them, largely because he’s wandering in their general direction anyway and shows no signs of stopping and I guess it’s less awkward to just invite him along and pretend that was your idea all this time.
That means it’s time for exposition about what redemption means, and how evil is sweeping the land, and how once Solomon was on a crew with Francis Drake and it “didn’t work out,” which I guess is meant to be because he’s evil but sounds weirdly like he and Drake broke up, and flashback dreams!
4. One of the flashback dreams is the one where his dad kicks him out of the castle forever, because he calls his older brother Marcus a bully and a brute who shouldn’t be lord of Whateverplace. (Brother, amazingly, raises his mead cup like, “Yup, totally am.”) Solomon can’t believe his father won’t listen to him! Solomon is SO out of there! GOD, Dad, you are ALWAYS like this! And I guess it takes him a while to pack, because by the time he’s storming off along the cliffs, his brother is already there, trying to rape a girl. Solomon pushes his brother, who trips on the only loose rock for ten miles in any direction, and sails right over the cliff. It is, quite frankly, amazing.
5. Meredith Crowthorn is a babe.
GOWN SLEEVES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY GOODNIGHT.
She is warm for his form immediately, espying it in the river as he bathes (Cookson!). ASAP, she’s lowered the boom on their covered wagon, risking all their worldly possession sliding right out the back, so she can be facing him as she finishes sewing some clothes she made him and hands them over, so now he’s walking directly behind her holding an armful of clothes, and they’re just staring at each other, and while it is the world’s most impractical way to set up a scene of eyefucking, I appreciate the effort, I guess.
However, we know she’s bound to get kidnapped by the bad guys, led by Skinmask Jones, so that Solomon finally has a reason to be violent again. Literally, with his dying breaths, Daddy Crowthorn tells him that he knows God will forgive Solomon, so long as Solomon hella kills like a bajillion guys and gets his daughter back.
6. And a bajillion guys he does! There is a huge body count in this movie. It feels like the same five extras repeatedly. Also a remarkably high number of severed heads.
Actual promotional still this movie released, in which James Purefoy’s eyes are closed.
7. The character actor quotient here is also remarkably high. Alice Krige, of all people, has five lines as Mistress Crowthorn, all the while looking at the attacking marauders as if she is one rude word away from ripping off that little white cap and eviscerating them all. Mackenzie Crook is a priest. Philip Winchester appears forty minutes before the end of the movie, hilariously earnest as always, as a resistance leader hoping to get guidance from his old Drake shipmate Solomon Kane. (“Hey, Solomon, it’s me! Henry! From the exposition, remember?”)
But for sheer Rent Was Due-ness, you can’t beat Jason Flemyng. He shows up ten minutes before the end of the movie as demon Malachai (you remember him), in makeup that must have taken longer to apply than his scenes were to film. And I like Jason Flemyng! I like him a lot. However, he was in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Clash of the Titans, and this, and at this point I need to know if this is just a Karl Urban/armor thing, and if Jason can nap in a makeup chair he will do whatever the job is.
“I am so gonna bring this up with Tony Curran in our Makeup-off next week!”
Because otherwise, I am not sure what about this movie is worth it for him. He doesn’t even get a big monologue. Maybe he just wanted to hang out on a soundstage with Rachel Hurd-Wood for two days. Maybe she’s just a cool lady!
8. There’s a scene here where Solomon is crucified (GET IT), and then sees her calling to him from her jail-cart, and rips himself from the cross to try to reach her. It is pouring rain. He falls into a pit of mud. Philip Winchester, Professional Second Fiddle, shows up to kill some evil grimy extras. There are two severed heads, and the entire village behind him is on fire. Cinema, you guys.
9. Also it turns out Malachai the demon is the real bad guy (huh, wonder if he knows the Devil’s Reaper we saw in that one prologue and then never again in this entire movie) and the skinface guy is Solomon’s bother who didn’t die from the fall off the HUNDREDS OF FEET TALL cliffs, he just went into a coma, and when he came back because of sorcery he Wasn’t the Same, and in order to rescue Meredith Solomon has to return to his ancestral home with his backup dudes to kill the shit out of some more extras.
Alone inside, Solomon has to square off against Skinface, which in this movie means he has to light his own brother on fire and decapitate him while screaming “BROTHER!” and whoever thought of this subplot is a genius.
(Whoever thought of the part where Malachi is suddenly like, “Whoops, we need your innocent blood!” and grabs Rachel Hurd-Wood and slices her hand to throw blood on the huge mirror that the Balrog lives in and Solomon shoots Malachai in the head and even though Malachai is a sorcerer who just turned himself into smoke, that bullet hits him in the brainpan and he dies and the Balrog sucks up Malachai and Skinmask Marcus but not Solomon because he killed those bajillion dudes and now she can chastely grip his hands and weep onto his chest as he quietly does math and tries not to die should probably have just run that through another draft.)
10. There is nothing about this movie that can be deemed in any way objectively good. The fact that it was made in 2008 and has just this week concluded its six-day American theatrical run is probably a hint here. On the other hand, in the annals of bad movies with an earnest core and totally hilarious execution, this one is just waiting to throw together the very loosest possible interpretation of a script, employ every British character actor in a five-mile radius, kill some extras, turn the strings section up to 11, and light some shit on fire just to try to impress you. James Purefoy was into that; and maybe someday on TNT at 10pm on a Sunday, you’ll be into it, too!