Well, at least it did say something against organized religion.
Priest is director Scott Stewart’s big-screen adaptation of a Korean comic (manhwa) of the same name. The Korean comic effectively combined intricately-woven plot points set against the backdrop of the Crusades, the Wild Wild West and the modern times, and tells an engaging story about humanity’s fight against twelve fallen angels bent to destroy the mortal world out of sheer jealousy after God passed them over for the puny humans.
Angels. Fight against humanity. Sounds a little too similar to the Paul Bettany-starred Legion, that yawn-inducing tale of man’s final stand against divine manslaughter also helmed by Stewart. Probably not wanting to repeat himself, Stewart instead gives us a stripped-down version of the original with vampires standing in for the 12 Fallen (not related to the Decepticons’ ally of the same name) and the original Undead priest of the manhwa transformed into a human kung-fu kicking priest.
And Stewart still ends up repeating himself. The resulting movie is one sordid mess of a tale, it makes the Blade franchise look like a studied intelligent reflection of vampirology and gothic myth.
Priest starts with a backstory, in lovely gory graphic novel-style animation, where we are told of a war of near annihilation between humans and vampires, the Priests that were dispatched to um, dispatch of the creatures. Naturally, when the job was seemingly finished, the once valuable Priests suddenly find themselves out of job, and just like any other war vets, were quickly cast aside.
I said “seemingly” because of course the job was not at all finished. Priest (Bettany) soon finds out that his daughter was abducted presumably by the same monsters he had sworn to wipe out. He was however discouraged by Church leader Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) who refuses to believe eyewitness accounts about the return of the living dead. Well you know these religious pricks. They can be difficult to deal with at times.
That’s as far as the story goes. Oh, and there’s the abductor, Black Hat (seriously – there’s a character named that). He was a priest who was presumably killed while in a mission with the Priest (don’t get confused – the capitalization is the cue) who was turned into the first ever hybrid called the Daywalker – no wait, that was another movie.
And yes, Black Hat (a criminally misused Karl Urban – get the guy better projects, quick!) is really a hybrid turned by the Queen Vamp into the first ever human vampire, one who has a lot more tolerance to sunlight than his photosensitive friends.
If all of these seemed a little confusing, blame it on Stewart. The man does have a penchant for stealing, I mean, paying homage to so many films, it’s kind of hard to keep track once the movie hits the one-hour mark. Thus, we have a finished product that would be utterly forgettable in a sea of vampire and supernatural blockbusters (not counting the pedophile one who looks like espasol, of course).
There is really nothing new that jaded action fans have seen in other better movies. The fight scene atop the moving train recalls both Blade and the Matrix at once. Even the eyeless vampires themselves look like they came from the first draft of Pan’s Labyrinth before Guillermo del Toro finally settled on the look for The Thin Man. And of course, THAT bullet time style made popular for Western audiences by the Matrix. Seriously, Hollywood should find another Hong Kong style to copy. The bullet time concept is getting a bit trite.
Bettany had always been reliable playing a tortured religious character which is not surprising giving the kind of practice he had been getting since playing a tortured albino monk in Da Vinci Code, and then playing an albino-looking Michael in Legion. Now, he’s playing a nearly albino Priest out to recover his daughter. Really great variation on the roles there.
Karl Urban and Maggie Q tried their damndest saving the movie from utter doldrums – and we give them A for even trying. However, their collective efforts are not enough to save the sometimes incoherent, most-of-the-time plodding movie.
So movie fans, do yourselves a favor. Watch this once it gets straight to video and RENT it, not buy it. One viewing is enough, let me assure you.
Or else, watch Thor instead. I tell you the Thunder God has a lot more to offer than this one.
Two out of Four Stars
Notes after watching Priest
- Paul Bettany better start badgering his agent for ANY role not related to religion, killing for religion, or going against religion. Starring as a pole dancer with a heart of gold would be a nice start – anything but the religion thingy. It’s rather painful seeing a talented actor like that repeating himself.
- The debate on the nationality of the Priestess gets settled during the climactic scene where the character crashes her explosives-laden motorcycle on a train – but jumps off in the last minute to save herself. Fine. We know she’s not Japanese.
- Karl Urban was killed 10 minutes into the film. You do not kill a star of Karl Urban’s magnitude unless you plan to resurrect him in some way. So his return as the main bad ass is really not that shocking.
- They call the Bettany character Priest; Maggie Q was Priestess. If they gather for a convention, what do they put on their name tags?
- Is it just me or the crosses on the Priests’ foreheads look like ashes from Ash Wednesday? Or are the Priests just too lazy to go to Church every Ash Wednesday, they decided to tattoo the symbol on their heads to save them the trouble of having to queue for the ashes?
- The familiars look familiar. Ah… they look like the vampires from I am Legend. Scott Stewart should change his family name to Xerox.
- First movie I saw Maggie Q cry. I would too, if somebody tells me that the cross on my forehead looks utterly ridiculous.
- Grima Wormtongue gets to be lunch for Eomer. Excellent!
- The cinematography is so poorly rendered, some scenes are barely visible. Somebody should have told me to bring a flashlight to the theatre while watching the movie. There are 37 cracks on the floor beneath me, and 35 pearls in my pearl shake. Yes, I was THAT bored.