The Devil Take You
Solomon Kane is way ahead of most other olden-days swords-and-sorcery actioners. Screenwritten by director Michael J. Bassett around the pulp-novel character created by Robert E. Howard, the hundred-four minutes is darkish in theme and in color with a chiaroscuro English landscape in snow and rain, and builds more slowly and deeply on character than its brethren. Everyone wears black; its scarred, skinhead raider-ruffian humans are standard issue, the netherworld hobgoblins few, far between and tame; the final devil (really an underling demon) mixes Human Torch, Hulk and ED 209 from RoboCop but is a brief cream puff and goes easy on the SFX; and for all the fighting, blood and guts do not fly all over the place.
In 1600 the homonymous captain is fearless, faithless and pitiless as he leads cutthroats against what are presumably the enemies of his Queen, at this juncture in North Africa. Played by James Purefoy and resembling a grimier version of Captain Morgan in rum ads, he gets cut off, and his followers offed, by evil powers in a throne room, where the Devil’s [Grim] Reaper (Ian Whyte) claims his soul for hell.
In the first of a limited number of Douglas Fairbanks derring-dos that look real because they are -- the star suffered a nasty gash performing one -- he escapes back to Somersetshire-Devonshire, there to take up residence in a monastery, contrite and convinced his soul and goodness are irrevocably lost. Sworn to non-violence in “a time when the world was plunging into chaos, witchcraft and sorcery when no one stood against evil,” he is ordered out to wander in that world.
Flashbacks reveal that he dare not return to the nearby castle of wealth where, as adolescent second son (by Lucas Stone), he had refused clerical orders which would facilitate the estate’s going to depraved elder brother Marcus (Samuel Roukin). Banished by the wrath of their father Josiah (Max von Sydow), he saved a maiden from ravishment or worse by Marcus, who accidentally fell over a cliff while three-masted ships in the distance determined the runaway’s own soldier-of-fortune future.
In the snowy present, he is taken in by the Crowthorn family in their wagon, themselves running from rage and religious persecution. Father William and mother Katherine (Pete Postlethwaite, who died since the film was made in 2009, and Alice Krige) encourage him to join them in the New World, but despite the large cross among numerous tattoos and scars covering his back, he feels that he is too cast out from grace.
Marauding raiders are scouring the countryside under a leather-masked Overlord (also Roukin) himself in the service of unseen epitome of evil Malachi (Jason Flemyng), ruling from his castle-fortress. These thugs cage those whom they do not slaughter outright, and they murder Crowthorn sons Samuel and Edward (Patrick Hurd-Wood and Anthony Wilks), cage and carry off daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), and leave William to die in his wife’s arms on extracting Solomon’s promise to rescue the girl.
Thus the immemorial trial-by-quest is set up. The daughter is pure and devoted, but love interest plays a backseat to the hero’s being remade (only in one sense as “Captain Kane”), his soul redeemed, and his Kane family relationship restored. In this England gone to the devil, there are crazed clergymen and victims-become-ghouls, necromancers and turncoats, hanged and burned bodies and burned villages. Solomon is crucified, too, between two others--a bit obvious--but Meredith’s voice gives him strength and a non-Christian’s (Beryl Nesbitt) herbal magic heals him to lead men of good faith determined to resist but hitherto leaderless.
In leather, flowing cape and buckle-banded Puritan hat, pilgrim Solomon Kane is a visually striking Shadow figure. Non-superhero powers limited, he is forced into a return to abjured bloodshed. The demonic adversaries are at once outside him and inside, and it is significant that they spring out of mirrors that have depths and yet also reflect the hero.
By no means profound, Solomon is nevertheless more rounded than many other adventure figures. Renouncing CGI and superhuman stunts, Solomon Kane gives him and its own effective visuals time to develop.
(Released by Radius-TWC and rated “R” for violence throughout.)