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Griffith Maloney [Celluloid 08.24.12] action thriller fantasy adventure

Solomon Kane is remarkably boring for being a movie about a sword wielding demon hunting puritan. The origin story of a fighter for justice, it follows the heroic journey formula almost to a tee. It has some special effects, it has some mud stained sword fights, some damsels in distress, some piracy and some familial struggles. It's got one of everything from the european fantasy film dollar store. Despite all of the ingredients for a stew of action adventure it still ends up feeling as bland as a visit to a historical reenactment village.

Originally written by Robert E. Howard in the 1930's Solomon Kane is a sort of wandering exorcist, he travels the world helping fight the forces of darkness. As was typical of the time period most of his adventures began with the saving of some damsel in distress. He fought with cutlass and pistol when necessary but he was much more of a middle aged magician than Howard's other character of note, the titular Conan the Barbarian. Director Michael J. Bassett tries a little bit of a retcon here by telling the origin story of Solomon Kane rather than dropping us into a current adventure. We get aquatinted with the young Kane, both as a young boy and as a strapping, swarthy pirate. As at first he runs away from and then runs towards the dark forces gathering in the world.

The construction of this movie epitomizes the word "solid" but it doesn't manage to earn itself any other praise. The acting is competent, James Purefoy plays Kane in a traditionally taciturn action hero manner. The cinematography is adequate to portray the rambling, dirty hills of supernatural England. The weapons and costumes are appropriate for the time period. Dialogue is snappy enough. Unfortunately Solomon Kane is empty of any real meaning or connection, there's some good looking smoke, but there isn't any fire. Everything about the movie screams middle ground, as if huge concessions were made in the scope or budget of their story. Even the monsters fall short of any sort of real threat or danger. You never feel like a dark world is really as menacing as Solomon Kane believes, from where the audience sits it just looks empty.

The story succeeds in portraying a somewhat accurate medieval lifestyle, with destitute rag wearing peasants meandering through the forested hills of England. However it lacks something that the other films made from Robert E. Howard's legacy have in spades, a sense of grandeur and a fun adventure. It left me wishing that Michael J. Bassett had just left out Solomon Kane altogether and instead told the story of redeemed pirate turned puritan who was just an impressive warrior rather than a supernatural crusader. A 1600s English version of Gladiator might've succeeded in ways that Solomon Kane doesn't. If I'm going to watch a movie about an adventurer who forcibly exercises demons using magical powers I want to see him do that, the lack of any really cool effects, monsters or magic left me feeling cheated.

Part of the problem is that Solomon Kane is an eighty year old property and it has a very different style than the current adventure movies. Out of fear that the pulp weird tales hero wouldn't connect with a young audience something had to be changed. Clearly they didn't want to go for option A and embrace the campy fun of the original, like the Conan movie did. So instead they went with option B and established a sort of gritty realism by making Kane as dirty and gruff as possible. Which sort of works, they did get Purefoy into leather "hero" pants.

Maybe the executives were right, I mean look at John Carter. A great bit of pulp literature that absolutely failed in its film adaptation even though it stuck to the spirit of the books. Maybe we're just past the time period in which real pulp literature can be adapted to modern audiences. It's getting awkward enough for franchises that were created in the 80s, look at Michael Bay's the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are aliens fiasco.

The main issue here is a weak script. Bassett clearly doesn't have a real goal in mind with his portrayal of Kane, other then gruff and dirty and it shows in the characters actions. There is supposed to be this great love/emotional connection between Solomon Kane and the girl who he spends most of the movie trying to rescue. Its tied weakly into his spiritual redemption and his redemption as a human being but because he's a Puritan and this is a time period not well suited to bodice ripping there's never a payoff. Its one thing to have a non-romantic motivation for action but the writing is so awkward and they spend so much time screaming each other's names that it just feels like Kane isn't good at talking to ladies, like some giant-demon hunting sorcerer nerd.

This limp wristedness continues for the whole film. With an abundance of time jumps and flashbacks, a lack of compelling secondary characters, no emotional connection to Kane himself and a rack of bad choices the script just can't support the weight of the narrative. Of note is one ludicrous scene near the end of the movie where Kane's action is so nonsensical it seems like Bassett just said screw it and threw in all the emotional triggers he could think of. The writing definitely is the most amateurish competent of an otherwise average film.

Solomon Kane is a serviceable movie, it does what it sets out to do in charting the rise of a pulp character from evil roots to a path of righteousness but there isn't enough meat here to keep audiences attention. It's clear people worked hard on the film and it never feels cheap or half-hearted but this is an uphill battle against a bad script and Solomon Kane lacks the crucial component of a adventure movie, fun. By the end of the film you're so bored of being dragged along with Kane through the dull landscape that you'll want to go home, pick up one of Robert E Howard's books and use your imagination for a while.

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RedRedKrovy (8 years ago) Reply

So for the most part I agree with you. To me the movie is solid but not great, I would rate it around a 7 out of 10. I knew this was going to be a hard challenge to begin with. I've read all of the Soloman Kane stories and to me a movie adaptation was an uphill battle to begin with. Howard's Soloman is pretty one deminsional, the stories hint to a past he is trying to redeem himself from but they never go into detail.

If I had to sum up Howard's Soloman in one word it would be conviction. In one story he chases a murderer halfway across the world for an undisclosed amount of time just to see that justice was done. Now back in the time the story is set taking a boat across the ocean to an uncivilized land and following a murderer into an unexplored jungle while the whole time being attacked by natives just because he killed a young woman is not only unheard of but just plain suicide. However Soloman doesn't care, he promised the lady before she died he would bring her killer to justice. That takes massive amounts of conviction.

To make that carry over into a movie is difficult, it can be done, but very difficult. That being said I expected a lot of senseless things to happen just to advance the plot and explain why he is doing what he does. I guess because of that I feel it deserves a somewhat favorable review because it's not as bad as it easily could have been. I think though he may not have hit a home run it was still a solid showing.


Johntaur (8 years ago) Reply

I agree with the above commenter. This movie was solid and interesting to watch (because I too have read the Kane stories), and moreso than the newest Conan movie, altho both movies left something to be desired. Perhaps Howard fans (specifically the fans that make movies out of Howard's characters) should come to realize that there's no translating the real essense of Howard's work. It all just comes off weird. To the reviewer, thanks for S. Kane bringing it back to my attention. Now I feel like I have watch it again. A second viewing should confirm a solid yay or nay for me.


Cyrus (8 years ago) Reply

"The story succeeds in portraying a somewhat accurate medieval lifestyle, with destitute rag wearing peasants meandering through the forested hills of England."

Haha. Ever seen a Brueghel? For me the dirty, ragged, dark nature of the film was one of the let-downs because it reduced the impact of Solomon Kane. If we'd seen him in his severe all-black against a backdrop of colourful people then his puritanism would have been quite powerful. But against a backdrop of darkness, he just looks the same as everyone else.

I thought the best idea in the script was that redemption element but that it didn't have the conviction to keep with it - the problem of having a religious character in this secular age. I'd have much preferred demon-hunting to the rather average plot we got, especially if the demons were period appropriate rather than just modern CGI monsters.

That said, it's a good solid film and I hope that we might get a sequel because I think it would be much better.


Umberto (8 years ago) Reply

The movie it's not bad, much better than the new Conan... and is a good movie to recreate the pulp era (with John Carter of Mars movie)


rbk (8 years ago) Reply

Pretty good review - I haven't watched it for a while and don't remember it much which probably speaks to the film. Bland, unspectacular and unmemorable. Not to say I didn't enjoy it at the time but it was just meh...


Jim Hague (8 years ago) Reply

Kane isn't an exorcist, nor a magician, and never was. Nor did the bulk of Kane stories start with a 'damsel in distress'. Seriously, where did you even get that idea?


Liam (8 years ago) Reply

Was I alone in thinking JCoM was a really fun movie? I haven't read the books so I had no expectations going in other than I am a huge weird tales fan and JCoM really captured d some of that extremely difficult to achieve feeling.
Solomon Kane, another classic pulp property and also one I haven't read, ended up being, as you say, a competent film. Everything was done properly yet it turned out to be... boring.


Terrible misgiuded Review (8 years ago) Reply

The fact that this film has been such a hit worldwide and has become a cult film is a testament to it's greatness. A fantasticly engaging film from beginning to end and a really cool action hero in James Purefoy, top of the list to be the new James Bond. Sure it's a fantasy adventure, and not everyone likes that, sure it's been given a darker interpretation by Michael Bassett but it does not change the fact that this is a powerful story and one the best adventure films you'll ever see. It's a pity then that Hollywood doesn't like it when foreigners beat them at their own game ut they shouldn't stand in the way of success either. I can see how difficult it is to get an audience in the US for independent films, time for change ?

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