British director Michael J. Bassett brings to the screen Solomon Kane, the graphic novel penned by Robert E. Howard (who also created Conan the Barbarian) with all due seriousness and gravity, as apparently befits the character. I have not read the books, so this was my first exposure. And while certainly not a perfect film, it has a great story, great action and a great leading man (James Purefoy, best known as Marc Antony on HBO’s Rome).
The screenplay is an interpretation of the origins of Solomon Kane, apparently culled from the various novels. Kane was quite the badass, far worse than the devil himself. Or so he thinks – an encounter with an agent of said devil leaves Kane scrambling to try and redeem his soul. But sometimes peace requires a sword, and when an innocent family is attacked, Kane takes up said sword to rid the land of evil sorcerers.
I disagree with Will’s review on several points. I do think, if you want to make a film series, that it makes sense to have one film devoted to the origin story, particularly if you want to appeal to viewers who haven’t read the books. (Case in point is Serenity, which could be enjoyed by devotees of the television series or newcomers.) I also don’t see this as just a sword and sorcery film, but indeed as high fantasy. The film involves too much realism and real history, and so high fantasy is required. This high fantasy becomes a very real and believable metaphor for what was happening in England in the late middle ages – the break-off of the various Christian sects, the last remnants of Paganism disappearing, the retreat of many to the New World, and the early days of the spread of the British Empire. Solomon Kane looks closely at the real-life dichotomy between Christians and Pagans. Both occupy this world, and while Kane claims to be Christian, the use of mirrors throughout the film suggests that these religions are really the same from a different perspective (not an original suggestion, but it’s handled well).
In fact, in his introduction to the world premiere, Bassett emphasized his desire to make a more serious-minded fantasy film than had been seen in the past. Certainly in the 1980s dozens of fantasy films were made that are looked back on as campy but were not necessarily seen that way at the time. This film is definitely serious; I don’t remember laughing at all, but instead had my fists clenched for most of it. I’ll admit it – I do love a good sword fight. And after seeing Purefoy in action, all I can say is what idiot has been casting Hugh Jackman in these types of roles for so long?
But serious issue aside, the fights and effects are brilliant, particularly the kidnapping mirrors in the opening sequence and the giant demon of fire near the end. The film perhaps needed a bit more script work, with a few more laughs thrown in. But overall it’s a tremendous effort that overall has paid off, and has opened the door to some potentially very good sequels.