If you loved Hyung Min-Woo’s Priest, and were actually hoping to see Ivan Isaacs, the undead, gun-toting titular character going at it with Temozarela’s fallen angels, then perish the thought. This big budget re-imagining helmed by Scott Stewart (who directed 2009’s Legion) has more in common with Blade Runner and Aliens than it does Korean manhwa.
Still, Priest has got its share of manhwa moments. It’s a fairly stylish piece overall, and while the script and characterization leaves something to be desired, it beats last year’s glittery vampires hands down just on the cool factor alone.
Priest starts out strong, with an elaborate animation sequence created by Russian animator Genndy Tartakovsky, contextualizing the eternal war between humans and vampires, and these vampires aren’t twinkly, High school fangboys either. They’re pasty skinned, eyeless mutants with distended mouths filled with razor sharp teeth, kinda like the Chiropterans from Blood. They’re, in a word, nasty.
Humanity’s hard earned victory is attributed to the Priests, a cadre of clerics schooled in mystical martial arts and armed to the teeth with deadly silver weapons. Trained solely for war, and left bereft of a purpose at the war’s conclusion, the priests faded into obscurity. That is, until the events of this movie.
The titular Priest (played by Paul Bettany) is roused into action when his brother’s (Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame, amusingly enough) homestead is attacked and his niece Lucy kidnapped by marauding vampires. Defying the orders of Monsignor Orelas and the College of Cardinals ruling the dystopic, Church-led city he hails from, Priest embarks on a journey across the wastelands, seeking his niece’s kidnappers, whilst uncovering a deadly plot that threatens the very safety of the world he has come to know.
Of course, the film isn’t about one defrocked vigilante’s battle against things that go bump in the night. He’s accompanied by Hicks, a lawman who also has the hots for Lucy (Cam Gigandet, who did Twilight), and another cassocked crusader (a Priestess, played by Maggie Q), and they form the classic adventuring trio.
But for all their cool kungfu tricks, it was the villain, credited as Black Hat (Karl Urban), who stole the show. Capering through the streets of a burning city, whilst Mozart’s Dies Iraes plays non-diagetically on an off screen gramaphone just screams awesome. It was probably the best scene in the entire movie, and the only scene that truly stuck.
Priest’s visual effects weren’t half bad. I didn’t mind the camera work, and the visuals were certainly the film’s highest points. The scene where Priest invoked Psalm 23, before flinging cross shaped shurikens of death willy nilly was pretty cool, and the part where Maggie Q faced down Mad Max-esque punk riders with a flail wasn’t shabby either. There’s not a whole lot going on that merits forking out another 5 bucks to watch it in 3D though.
For a Hollywood adaptation, Priest certainly bucks the trend by being passably good, rather than incredibly bad.
While it certainly has its shortfalls, least of all in the script (which was really pretty mundane and lacking in the intellectual rigor a film about priests and vampires could have possessed) and the 2-D characters, it’s one of the better vampire films I’m seen churned out in the West in awhile.
Watch for the aesthetics, if nothing else.