Now Where's That Needle...
It's not too hard to understand why Americanized films of Asian pop culture easily gets into a furore amongst fans, because the track record so far, with films such as Godzilla some time back, and Blood: The Last Vampire recently, are pretty dismal in having no effort spent in trying to remain true to the respective folklores. Before you get up in arms about the adaptation of Akira, you can first add Priest into the mix, a film based on the Korean comic created by Hyung Min-woo that combines the Western genre with horror, but this film is anything but Hyung's original content, and remotely so other than to borrow some themes and settings, and little else.
First of all, one gets a dumbed down story that should appeal to the lowest denominator amongst audiences worldwide for the sole reason to get its set action sequences up and running. Cory Goodman crafts a tale about a time where Humans and Vampires get locked in an eternal war, only for a breed of special humans blessed by the Divine to become sacred warriors known as Priests, who tipped the balance of favour for the humans, and with the belief of the vampires' extinction, so too does the Priests who get stripped of their authority and function by the clergy for fear that they become all too powerful. So they are forced to go underground to well, seek alternative employment.
It's little wonder that this film touches base on how veteran soldiers get treated past their use by date, where humans who step forward in defense of an ideal, ultimately get tossed aside by politicians or society when peace prevails, offering little compassion or sympathy toward those deemed killers, in a new era that calls for none of their skillsets, and little tolerance for those who have their hands stained with blood. I appreciated how this thematic aspect got weaved into the narrative, but seriously it didn't dwell on it long enough to garner its supposed impact on the audience, opting instead to gloss over it rather quickly for its more straightforward plot in quite similar terms to Taken, involving a Priest (Paul Bettany) in his mission to rescue his niece (Lily Collins) from the clutches of her vampiric kidnappers.
But of course there are the usual twists and true intentions kept under wraps for the most part, which may seem quite smart if not for its rather chunky delivery, involving a massive train ride that contributed to a major action sequence in the last act. The action choreography though leaves much to be desired, with its plenty of wire stunts and overworked computer graphics that rather than being photo-realistic, it became rather animated and cartoony in approach, where ironically its animated introduction of the premise was a notch better in terms of execution (pardon the pun), having its fair share of bloody gore and horror. Most of the money shots got included in the trailers, so there isn't much left to surprise you, other than some hastily assembled martial arts flips and somersaults, plus plenty of oh-so-cool poses which comes courtesy of Maggie Q's Priestess, here to provide some brushes of forbidden romance between those who have taken that vow of celibacy.
Paul Bettany seems to enjoy having to play such apocalyptic, messiah-like character, where his earlier film Legion comes to mind, and this film being just comparable to that effort. He scowls ever so often in this film, dispatching his CG enemies with aplomb, since they look like cheap throwaways from the Alien franchise and don't offer much of a challenge against a man who has at his disposal, plenty of silver weaponry of various shapes and sizes, together with moments of prayer to calm nerves. Joining the Priest in his mission are the Priestess (as mentioned) after the halfway mark, and the Wasteland Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) who has the hots for the Priest's niece and is in this to rescue his beloved, having to inform the Priest of her kidnapping. Karl Urban is totally wasted as Black Hat, the chief villain with an intention to carry on the good fight of the vampires, as he spends most of the time in shadow, and like most cheap villains, spend too much time talking than to finish off his opponents.
Those who decide on the 3D version of this film, save your money. As already explained, films that converts 2D into 3D formats during post production aren't worth your time and effort, and Priest just reinforces why. There are little 3D effects that will genuinely wow, and most come across as pretty lame 2D knock ups, since the action sequences aren't exactly designed with 3D in mind. Also, given that the film's setting is already filled with plenty of darkness, having to put on those glasses make this film ridiculously dark in presentation, since whatever minute light got cut off, and you'll wish you're better off with watching the 2D version instead. You have been warned.
With release dates being postponed time and again and ultimately decided upon this week, that is almost always a clear indication of either a troubled production, or a studio having little faith in its final product. And this shows up in the film, with its rather direct-to-the-point plotting and generic, yet another uninspiring vampire themed action adventure that could have been a lot more.