Solomon Kane is so serious. For certain people
this is great news, as the idea of an ass-kicking Puritan hunting down
foul demons and things that go bump in the night has an obviously unintentionally campy
component to it, and the original pulp stories by Robert E. Howard are
pretty serious stuff, or at least they take themselves pretty
seriously. For others this is going to be a huge problem, as the
silliness inherent in the concept and in some of the low-budget sword
and sorcery on display is too obvious to ignore.

For my part I
rolled with it, although I found myself suddenly torn from the movie in
moments when Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, often looking a bit like Hugh
Jackman’s butch-ier stand-in) would look up at a giant CGI creature and
say ‘Good lord’ in prayerful earnestness. Maybe it’s just the training
I’ve received during a generation of genre film watching, but thats’
when the hero makes a joke or a wisecrack of some sort, or at least
says ‘Good lord’ in a kind of funny, ‘Holy shit I’m in over my head,’
fashion. But Kane is really just praying to the lord to help him
dispatch this latest enemy. With all total seriousness.

But I guess without that seriousness you couldn’t have a movie where
your hero rips himself off a cross and then jumps into battle. And said
‘Cross, ripping self off from’ scene is probably the litmus test for
writer/director Michael J. Bassett’s commitment to the uber-seriousness
of the concept and the character. If he can keep a straight face in
that scene, he means it – and Bassett pours on the drama, pathos,
driving rain and grimness in that moment.

Grim is probably as good a word as any to describe the film. The
opening scene made me think I might be in for something a little
different; as Solomon Kane, a plunder-seeking British sea captain,
attacks and infiltrates a castle the film seemed to offer up fun in the
Ray Harryhausen tradition. Kane and his men first battle through what
appear to be a bunch of Moors or Arabs to gain entrance to a hall
filled with mirrors. At the other end of the hall is a doorway, behind
which presumably lies vast treasure. In each of the mirrors floats a
menacing-looking wraith, and as Kane and his nameless group walk
through them, wraiths jump from the glasses and pull sailors to their
existential dooms, all while Kane marches forward and orders his men to
do the same. You can just see Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews variety) leading
his men through a very similar peril.

But Solomon Kane offers few other ‘fun’ moments. Bassett
is definitely going for something more along the lines of ‘kick ass,’
and he generally manages to get there, even despite a low budget for a
film that has big ambitions. When Kane gets through the mirrors he
discovers the whole thing was a trap, and that the Devil has laid claim
to his soul and intends to collect. Narrowly escaping, Kane repents for
his life of sin and tries to walk the path of peace, but as any guy who
is good at killing but renounces it finds in the movies, you can’t just
drop the sword and expect peace to greet you with open arms.

It takes Kane a little while to get back into the slaughtering swing of
things – a little while that is less painful than it could have been
for the audience thanks to some deft direction by Bassett – but sure
enough he’s eventually cleaving skulls and chopping pieces off of
people, although in this case the people end up being innocents who
have been possessed by an evil that is blighting the land. Most of
Kane’s enemies are the demonic possession form of the stormtrooper –
ie, nameless, faceless bits of cannon fodder – although there is one
very Deadite-seeming witch and, always just at the end of the next
level, a masked baddie who serves a more powerful but hidden master.

So none of it is terribly original. Much of it is suitably kick ass,
though, and Bassett and Purefoy create a Kane who is very badass in
that way which appeals to 15 year old boys – emotionless, driven, grim
n’ gritty. His world is just as grim n’ gritty; Bassett has created a
16th century England that’s post-apocalyptic and filthy. A snow keeps
falling throughout the movie and to me it looked like ash, like a
nuclear winter had just been visited upon this land. It’s effective,
and it’s just one layer of the grime, filth, putrocity and decay
Bassett layers on the film. The art design of the film is unclean, and
I mean that in the best possible way. It’s also huge; while the budget
may have been slim the world created is big, and Bassett never misses a
chance to layer on a detail that will add dimension and originality to
any location or shot, whether it be a man hanging from a tree or a
background ruffian in a bar. There are films with triple the budget
that fail to create a world as convincing or immersive.

Kane’s driven by a need to redeem himself that’s utterly selfish in
nature – namely that he doesn’t want to burn in hell – and I would have
liked to see the film focus more on that. Isn’t there an inherent
hypocrisy in doing good deeds just to save your own soul? No one really
calls Kane out on it, but it seems to me like a
philosophical/theological debate worth having. Especially with a film
this serious. This is an origin film, though (and not based on any of
Kane’s chronicled adventures, Bassett said), so there’s still plenty of
room to explore this aspect of the character in a potential sequel.

There’s also room for improvement in a potential sequel. Bassett’s
script is episodic and formless; while the baddies are always the same,
Kane stumbles through them without a sense of a mission for far too
long. Even the mission he does get is abandoned for a little while in
another small episode. Many of the episodes feel disconnected
(especially a sequence with Mackenzie Crook as a priest) to the point
that they could probably be cut from the film altogether and little
would be lost. The main story, about the evil wizard blighting the
land, keeps getting lost, and while the masked baddie shows up
throughout, he never gets a chance to show off how tough he is until
the end – he just keeps riding up on his horse, as if these scenes were
spliced in after the fact to give a bunch of Solomon Kane shorts an
overarching story. If Bassett gets a chance to return to the world of
this tough guy Pilgrim I hope he brings a tighter script with him.

I would like to see Bassett come back. I think there’s fun to be had with this character, and I hope the fun gets found (Solomon Kane may be the only movie where I’ve ever wished
for a comedic sidekick). And that Bassett gets a couple more dollars to
play with. The scenes featuring monsters and the supernatural are the
best scenes in Solomon Kane, and I’d be happy to see more of them in the sequel. Along with a couple more smiles.

7.5 out of 10