Director: Scott Stewart
Producer: Michael DeLuca
Distributor: Screen Gems, Sony Pictures
Release Date: May 13, 2011
Runtime: 87 Minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Starring: Paul Bettany , Karl Urban , Cam Gigandet , Stephen Moyer , Maggie Q
Synopsis (Product Description):
In a world ravaged by wars between humans and vampires, a renegade priest fights to rescue his niece from the legions of bloodsuckers who seek to transform the young girl into one of them. A battle-weary veteran of the last vampire war, warrior Priest now resides in a heavily fortified city where the ruling Church is a greater menace than any creature of the night. When a pack of vampires abduct Priest’s niece, the vengeful holy man breaks his vows and promises to save the young innocent from a fate worse than death. He can’t do it alone, but with a powerful warrior Priestess and his niece’s boyfriend, a sharp-shooting sheriff, on his side, Priest may have a fighting chance.
Priest starring Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet and La Femme Nikita herself, Maggie Q, is an action sci-fi beat ’em up that’s equal parts Mad Max and Underworld. It’s a stylish film that doesn’t quite escape B-movie status. Based on the Manga of the same name, Priest is the story of an alternate earth in which human kind has always been at war with the faster, stronger vampires. Mankind lives under a theocracy which governs the major cities that remain after some, presumably, vampire apocalypse. For centuries humanity’s sole advantage has been the sun. That is until the Church develops super powered warrior priests who turn the battle in humanity’s favor. A priest is part Shaolin monk, part Jedi Knight with a touch of Neo from the Matrix. Paul Bettany’s character, Priest (seriously), is the best of the best who comes out of forced retirement after vampires attack his loved ones and kidnap Lucy, his niece.
All in all, it’s a great dystopian set-up, and the early city scenes are reminiscent of Blade Runner. The fact that Priest often evokes memories of other, better movies is part of why Priest doesn’t ever make the leap from okay/good to great. What it does excel at is great action sequences and excellent worldbuilding, brought to life by beautiful art direction and set design. A special mention should be made to the creature effects. The vampires in Priest are animalistic. There’s nothing sexy, or noble about them. It’s an interesting choice, which has the downside of removing any serious characterization for 99.9% of the vamps in the movie. On the other hand Priest’s vamps are rather unique in the genre, akin to the fast zombies of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, personality for vamps, unlike for zombies, is very important. Faceless hordes of vampires provide lots of butts for Priest to kick, but little else.
Priest’s world is a dirty, dusty future version of the Wild West. Even though humans have long since won the war with vampires, it doesn’t feel like a victory worth having as the Church casts an oppressive shadow over everyone and everything. Paul Bettany certainly classes things up. He might be headlining a near B-movie, but someone forgot to tell him that, and he boasts an A-plus performance. His nemesis, Black Hat, played by Karl Urban, isn’t as well developed an antagonist as he should be. His motivations for throwing in with vampire kind are a little unsatisfying. Black Hat certainly proves a worthy adversary, but is a paper thin character.
Ultimately, Priest is a fun movie for the action. It has intriguing elements, but doesn’t quite reach the loftier heights of modern vampire action films such as 30 Days of Night, Underworld, Blade or the excellent Daybreakers. So, even with all my criticisms of Priest, I must confess, I still liked it for what it was, a big dumb action movie.
P.S. Don’t waste your money on 3-D for this movie. I felt as though it made a dark movie even darker, draining some of the color from the film. The 3-D effects were also minimal.
FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.
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