In 2009 director Scott Charles Stewart and actor Paul Bettany paired up to provide the terribly disappointing Legion. Two years on the and the two have united again to create an adaptation of Korean comic book series Priest.
Set in an alternate world ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires, this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller focuses on a veteran warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) who lives in a city ruled by the Church. When his niece is captured by a murderous pack of vampires Priest must disobey church law in order to track her down. On his quest he is joined by his niece’s boyfriend, a young wasteland sheriff.
Very much like this director/ actor partnership’s previous film, Legion, Priest’s conventional narrative is unsurprisingly poor and predictable throughout. The film does little to engage its audience and it doesn’t take long for the vast array of on-the-nose dialogue to become unbearable. Bettany’s performance is nothing but alright, considering he isn’t providing anything new.
Thankfully this film is rescued by its visual effects, something that the director is very familiar with. Stewart boasts a stunning reputation in film, not as a director, but as a visual artist with works that include Sin City, Mars Attacks! and Iron Man. Throughout this film he shows his expertise in this field with fantastic landscapes that are well imagine and crafted. His influences are made immediately clear with Cathedral City sharing the same futuristic dystopian aesthetic as Blade Runner twinned with the post-apocalyptical wastelands of Fallout 3.
The film begins with a stylistic animation which not only sets the scene, but cleverly bridges the gap between comic book and film, something that Zack Snyder achieves very well with his films. However, this becomes problematic later when in fact the film would have been much better suited instead of live action, although it wasn’t far off considering that the large majority of the film was computer generated, including all of the vampires.
Throughout his career Karl Urban has been cast as little more than a supporting role and while it has allowed him to appear alongside some of the biggest names in the industry it has always resulted in him being underused. His performances in the surprisingly impressive Red and the two later Lord Of The Rings films are very good, but overshadowed by actors in bigger roles. It wasn’t until his great performance as Bones in JJ Abrams’ reimagining of Star Trek that attention began to fall on him. But, alongside Bettany as a Van Helsing meets Blade character is a step backwards for an actor looking to move in to lead roles. A clichéd narrative and on the nose dialogue suffocate his performance, but at least we can look forward to him appearing as Dredd in the forthcoming remake of Stallone classic Judge Dredd.
The director/ actor partnership of Stewart and Bettany may provide what was watchable of Legion, the style and action sequences, but it also brings its worst elements; a clichéd narrative and poor dialogue results in a film confused of its genre and incredibly disappointing.