Director: Scott Stewart
Writers: Cory Goodman, Min-Woo Hyung
Stars: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban, Lily Collins, Christopher Plummer
SYNOPSIS: After centuries of war between humans and vampires, a tentative peace has been reached. With humans living behind the walls of mega-cities under church laws, vampires have prospered and gained strength. When his niece is kidnapped by the vampires, a warrior priest disobeys church doctrine to track her down.
Very loosely based on the original Korean comic graphic novel by Hyung Min-Woo and written by rookie film writer Cory Goodman, veteran visual effects man and Legion director Scott Charles Stewart re-teams with Paul Bettany for Priest. Gone are the zombies, the twelve fallen angels, and the rich complex story line from the comic, replaced with hordes of vampires and warrior priests. And instead of taking place in the times of the Crusades, the 19th century Wild West and modern day, Priest takes place in an alternate Earth's post-apocalyptic future.
The setting of the film alternates from the dark, ash-filled industrial religion run society with a look similar to Judge Dread and George Romero's Land of the Dead to a bright stark desert wasteland that hearkens back to Road Warrior: Beyond Thunderdome. Even the climax of the film tears a page out of Beyond Thunderdome's third act with the use of a desert train chase.
Priest strays wildly from the source material, and those who are not familiar with Min-Woo Hyung's graphic novel come away with a straight-forward vampire hunter revenge flick while fans of the Priest comic will be critical of the end product. Paul Bettany returns in great physical form as the dedicated warrior title character. Now that the wars against the vampires is over and the rest of the bloodsuckers have been forced on penal reservations, the warrior priests have been forced back into the general society structure within one of many mega-cities that the last of civilization cower within under the rule and protection of the Clergy.
When his brother Owen and his family is attacked, and niece is kidnapped, Priest disobeys Clergy doctrine in order to hunt down those responsible. Christopher Plummer stars as the head monsignor Orelas of the Clergy, bow beating and looking down on Priest with wonderful disdain and entitlement. Cam Gigandet joins the film as the wasteland Sheriff Hicks who enlists Priest's help, complete with a perfect 5 o'clock shadow and a knife throwing demonstration and target shooting right out of The Magnificent Seven. The antagonist simply named Black Hat (Karl Urban) steals his scenes with his ultra cool ex-priest, current-vampire hybrid performance. Finally, the women of the film, Priestess (Maggie Q) and the niece Lucy (Lily Collins), make good impressions, but are stunted by their lack of screen time. One good move made was that the vampires, other than Black Hat, are sightless, over-sized fanged mutants rather than glamorized pretty boys.
Although coming in at a vamp's tooth under 90 minutes, Priest still slowing plods along as it sets up the action scenes. One of the beginning scenes where Priest confesses to a prerecorded monsignor via a public confession booth and a microphone gives us a taste of a society that could have been explored further. One of the first larger action sequences in the bowels of the vampire "reservation" camps uses the smokey darkness to effective and creepy success. And in the climatic third act train chase, we are treated to a triad of cool sequences, from a furious fight atop the train cars between Priest and Black Hat, to Hicks moving through the rail cars trying to find Lucy, to Priestess looking to destroy the rail line while fighting off masked motorcycle marauders.
Whether in 2D or 3D, Priest should have tried to stay closer to its origins. The film is tight and somewhat steady but, ultimately, left me drained.
WORTH: Matinee or Netflix