Title: Solomon Kane
Director: Michael Bassett
Starring: James Purefoy, Max Von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, MacKenzie Crook, Philip Winchester, Jason Flemyng, Ian Whyte, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige
With its achingly archetypal cold open — which unfolds in North Africa in the 1600s, and describes its setting as “a time of witchcraft and sorcery, when no one stood against evil” — writer-director Michael Bassett’s adaptation of the pulpy old Marvel Comics serial “Solomon Kane” seems poised for another rather dunderheaded dive into brawny action adventure swashbuckling. Amidst the backdrop of a bunch of grimy cretins, a hero with impossibly white teeth emerges, dispensing brutal justice. Somewhat improbably, however, this movie soon settles down into a fine if square-jawed groove, delivering rousing, no-nonsense adventure of a sort which should generally please fans of “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Legend of Zorro” and other throwback, morally black-and-white entertainment.
James Purefoy stars as the title character, a warring English captain whose bloodthirstiness initially knows no bounds. After attacking a mysterious nearby castle with an eye on plundering its riches, Kane finds his soul cursed by the Devil’s Reaper (Ian Whyte). Renouncing violence and devoting himself to a life of peace and purity, Kane finds his oath of spirituality and nonviolence put to the test when, after having been aided by a Puritan family headed up by William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite), he is unable to stop their slaughter and the kidnapping of their daughter, Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), by a band of followers of sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng).
Strapping back on his cutlass, pistols and rapier, Kane aims for absolution through a trail of deserved dead. He knows Satan’s demons will now be coming for him (“I’m bound for hell, but it’s a price I’ll gladly pay”), yet feels compelled to take a stand against evil on behalf of those he deems to have a greater innocence. Think of it as a historical (and less hysterical) sort of spin on “Ghost Rider,” by way of Robin Hood or Zorro.
As first envisaged by pulp author Robert E. Howard (“Conan the Barbarian”), the character of Solomon Kane was a somber Puritan (which, yes, meant the inclusion of a funny hat) who wandered the Earth striking out against evil and injustice. (There’s considerable speculation that those facts informed the name of Kwai Chang Caine, David Carradine’s character from “Kung Fu.”) Howard’s stories, from the 1930s, were mostly published in “Weird Tales,” and the character was then resurrected in the 1970s and ’80s by Marvel Comics, and later Dark Horse Comics. The massively delayed arrival of “Solomon Kane” on Stateside shores (a French/Czech/British co-production, Bassett’s movie saw an international release almost three years ago) speaks to a relative lack of stature in the comic book/pop cultural canon, but perhaps owing to this fact the film largely escapes the gravitational pull of source material adherence that weighs down so many projects of this ilk.
“Solomon Kane” feels old-fashioned, yes, but its streamlined narrative rather quickly becomes something of a virtue. The script is straightforward in its presentation of obstacles — this isn’t a movie of much complication — but Purefoy’s brooding and emoting are a fairly nice match for the material, and the rest of the cast is all on the same page, tonally. If the film’s mediocre budget hampers the execution and delivery of a couple more broadly imagined action set pieces, writer-director Bassett otherwise nicely choreographs the movie’s hand-to-hand combat sequences, while Dan Laustsen’s cinematography and a superlative production design package mesh nicely with composer Klaus Badelt’s stirring offerings. Were it not for the film’s grim violence (it’s rated R), its well captured action would easily outstrip the vast majority of this year’s Hollywood studio PG-13 adventure offerings.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Solomon Kane” is also available across various VOD platforms.
Written by: Brent Simon