James Purefoy stars as Solomon Kane, a 17th Century English mercenary who turns to religion and pacifism after an encounter with a demon who has come to claim his soul. This is the ‘swords and sorcery’ sub-genre at its committed best, and Kane’s newfound ideals don’t last for long as he renounces his vows when he swears to avenge those killed by the evil sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng). It’s angsty and bloody, but despite playing everything with a straight face Solomon Kane never seems to take itself so seriously and that allows for the audience to have some fun in a brilliantly realised world filled with demonic threat. Purefoy gives it his all, and Max von Sydow and Pete Postlethwaite also star, naturally.
With the image of Lord Of The Rings slowly retreating in the rear view mirror and the looming pantheon of The Hobbit films drawing into view, some distraction to stave off Middle Earth anticipation is desperately needed. Some celluloid travel Scrabble, if you like. Here to rescue us, Solomon Kane, starring James Purefoy, is fast effective relief for Lord Of The Rings withdrawal.
This comic book hero may not be the most well-known, but there's a wealth of potential capers in Solomon Kane that, it is hoped by those involved with the project, could launch a new British franchise. The original character of Solomon Kane was created by Robert E. Howard, the writer from the golden era of pulp fiction who also created Conan The Barbarian. Kane appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales before being picked up and adapted into comic book form by various writers.
The first twenty minutes of Solomon Kane is almost a film in its own right: he's a bloodlust fighter with no discernable values except the pursuit of riches. Whilst storming a castle loaded with gold, his soldiers are all slaughtered by strange demon creatures. When he finally reaches the gold, he's confronted by the devil's own henchman who tries to drag Kane's soul to Hell by first removing his head. After this rather perturbing run-in, Solomon decides to denounce his violent ways and serve out the rest of his days in a monastery.
After getting kicked out of the monastery for being cursed, Kane finds peaceful comrades in a puritan family, of which Pete Postlethwaite is the doting father. When a gang sent from the Devil's helper, who has taken residence in Cornwall, attack the merry band and kidnap the daughter, Kane sees that if he is to defeat evil he must pick up the sword and lop off some bad-guy heads. What we have is the same all action killing machine we saw at the beginning of the film, only this time it's not personal, he's killing in the name of God.
As an action hero Solomon Kane smacks of Clint Eastwood's preacher in Pale Rider; the hat, the scars, the grim, distant, conflicted gaze. It's a part that could be easily miscast, but James Purefoy is perfect for the role. Convincing as psychotic butcherer and righteous slayer, he has the look, the stance, some nifty sword-play and looks rather fetching in leather.
For the budget available, some effects are incredible and the wide-angle scenery shots are breath-taking. It is unfortunately rushed towards the end and the final scene seemed to resolve with slightly too much closure to hint at a trilogy. Though well cast and emotionally engaging, you don't have to delve deep into the fantasy-adventure genre to find similar characters and plot points. Perhaps with a more generous budget and a slightly bolder plot, a second instalment could really be something special.
In a nutshell: A hugely entertaining adaptation of the dark comic series. Inventive weapons of death, a crucifixion, accomplished swordplay and a demented demon may not exhaust the ingredients for an epic fantasy-adventure of Lord Of The Rings proportions, but they do make for a grand spectacle.
By Simon Jablonski