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Blade Meets Aliens In Mad Max Land
on May 13, 2011
This visually arresting film is sure to please those looking for a popcorn-y monster movie diversion. The plot's not much to write about (based on a series of graphic novels:Priest: Genesis - Volumes 1-3), but the visual interpretation is at times nearly breathtaking on the big screen (especially in 3D). The priests are a special cadre of warriors commissioned by The Church (the new world's governing body) to hunt down and eradicate vampires in the land. According to the comic book-style animated backstory, they accomplished their mission and were disbanded. But wait, not so fast. Despite The Church's unexplained objections and denials, there may be vampire trouble brewing outside the protective walls of the cities. One priest renounces his vows to save a girl held captive by the marauding beasts.
This is a world that looks like Utah's stark salt flats without life or greenery, but with lots of space where one can really zip around on super-cool jet-powered motorcycles. The cities are grotesque gothic masses of steel and randomly placed video screens straight out of a monochrome version of Blade Runner - The Final Cut (Two-Disc Special Edition). The sets are stark and at the same time fantastic. One feels the clausterphobia and despair of a world without natural light or color. The CGI set designers seemed to take great care in developing a convincing post-apocalyptic wasteland, but the results are uneven. Adding in great amounts of detail in some scenes (3D dust particles, stunning lighting effects) is very impressive with its realism, only to be followed by a scene that seemed blurry, monochromatic, and feeling incomplete. Overall, the visual sets and effects are easily the most impressive part of the film.
Paul Bettany is convincing as a supercharged yet tortured vampire killer who gave up a shot at a normal existence (well, as normal an existence could be with vampires roaming the open plains) in order to dedicate his life to culling vampire herds and protecting mankind. Not much emotional range is needed for the role, but Bettany does a decent job of infusing it with some humanity. Cam Gigandet plays a squinty wild west-style gunslinger/sheriff bent on saving his girl. He's good with his knife but better with his gun (so he says). His character (and how Gigandet plays him) seems more of an annoyance to The Priest (and to the audience as well). Karl Urban steals his every scene with a deliciously snarling performance of a former priest gone bad. Maggie Q stoically kicks but while trying to hide her not-so-priestess-y feelings for our hero. The performance, while they won't be in line for Oscar consideration, are strong enough to carry the relatively weak story and drive the action.
The action is propulsive, albeit sometimes disjointed and difficult to follow in the vampire combat scenes. Not to worry, there's plenty of gory death and dismemberment for the mutants, which leads to this question: What does it take for a movie to get an "R" rating these days? There were amputations, decapitations, combustions, explosions, lacerations, and lots and lots of blood. Throw in a single "F"-word and they must've given the MPAA more than a few fits. I had to recheck my ticket to verify I'd actually seen a PG-13 feature. Sure enough, but still hard to believe. Anyway, it certainly satisfied the film's action quotient.
One aspect that may offend some viewers is that there seems to be open season on the Catholic church. The film makes no bones about its scorn for all things religious, especially if religion is used (in a paraphrase of Karl Marx) as the opiate of the masses. Christopher Plummer's immense talent is wasted as the control-minded monsignor of the church's highest office. He wails mantras through ubiquitous video screens to the city's public mind-numbingly plodding through the streets, obviously attempting to overtly brain wash. "To turn against the church is to turn against God" must be repeated 20 times in the film. We get what you're saying. Move on. Alan Dale's considerable acting chops are also squandered as he plays Plummer's right-hand monsignor. There was hope for what could have been a fantastic plot twist (a mole in the highest court) that never developed as his character took the wide path that leads to destruction, one of more than a few missed screenwriting opportunities.
But that's not necessarily why one watches a vampire-slayer movie. It's that kind of poor screenwriting that kept this film from being something really special and memorable. Instead, it's relegated to the class of effective but flawed genre film.
The bottom line is: I still liked it. I'd recommend "Priest" to anyone who likes films in the genre like Blade or Underworld (Widescreen Special Edition).