ActionFest 2012 Review: SOLOMON KANE Is The Pulp Adventure Conan Should Have Been
Life's a bitch when your soul is owed to the devil. It's even more of a bitch when you're not even the guy who sold it off. But such is the sad state of affairs for Solomon Kane, the one-time bloodthirsty, amoral, treasure hunting sea captain prone to gunning down his own men for disobedience while spouting off inspirational lines about how he's the only devil his men have to fear when they quake in fright at the evil forces he keeps sending them against in the quest for more riches. But Solomon's a reformed man now, a man who has taken up residence in a monastery and pledged himself to a peaceful life in a desperate bid to atone for his past wrongs in the hope that God will take mercy upon him and restore his soul. It's a plan that may even have worked if not for the evil sorcerer ravaging the land, a potent force that only goes to prove that sometimes the forces of good need to have a little blood lust if they are to prevail. They need to be a little vicious. They need Solomon to pick up his sword.
Yes, boys and girls, Solomon Kane is the creation of Robert E Howard, best known as the creator of Conan The Barbarian. Yes, Kane is the subject of a new screen adventure helmed by Michael Bassett. And, yes, 80's style sword and sorcery adventure is back in a big way with Bassett's thoroughly entertaining screen adaptation.
James Purefoy stars as the title character, a man as prone to violence and evil as any who may walk the earth when we first meet him. Kane has no fear, no morals. There is only the lust for wealth and power and there is no length that Kane will not go to achieve what he wants. He lives in fear of no man and no creature and continues living because he has the physical skills to overcome any sort of creature that he has ever encountered until the fateful day that he encounter's one of Satan's own Reapers and learns that somehow, somewhere, Solomon Kane's soul has been sold and that the time has now come for the Devil to collect. He barely escapes but is there really any point? How long can you hide from the Devil himself? A monastery provides sanctuary for a time but when a horde of magically enhanced thugs and killers begins swarming the land under the control of a hulking, masked warrior under the control of a foul sorcerer Kane is forced back out into the world by the monastery's abbot in the hopes that Kane may seek redemption not in hiding himself away but in protecting the weak and powerless.
Loaded with swordplay, evil creatures and adventure, all of it anchored by the classic antiheroic Kane himself, Solomon Kane is a throwback to the pulpy fantasy adventure genre that creator Robert E Howard once ruled. It is the sort of film that Van Helsing should have been only bigger, bloodier and burlier. James Purefoy has long been touted as the next big leading man and his natural charisma shines through int he title role, while supporting players such as Jason Flemyng, Max Von Sydow and Pete Postlethwaite provide solid work in support. The effects are solid, the action plentiful, and while the swordplay has obviously been planned with a PG-13 audience in mind it pushes as hard against that limit as it can with more than one limb severed and head removed.
Despite a loyal fan following, sword and sorcery fantasy has always been a difficult genre to pull off convincingly and, as such, has largely been neglected in recent years. But with Kane we get a different sort of sword and sorcery hero, one dropped into the puritan era rather than the middle ages, and that simple change breathes new life into a tired beast. Though not a perfect film by any stretch - some of the fighting is shot too close and edited too fast while a couple of the digital effects land only just on the acceptable side of the spectrum - but it is a hugely entertaining one, one loaded with rich characters and strong players and stacks of quality set pieces. I can only hope that the producers of the soon-to-be-revived Conan franchise are paying attention to this one because Solomon Kane is one excellent primer on how to tackle Howard and make him work for today's audiences. No theatrical release has been announced yet but seek it out when the time comes. This is a good one.