“There was a time when the world was plunging into darkness and chaos. A time of witchcraft and sorcery. A time when no one stood against evil.” It is North Africa in the year 1600, where Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) lays waste to kingdoms in search of fortune, power, conquest, and destiny. But when the devil’s reaper comes to claim Kane’s soul in a merciless ambush, his life of murder and greed is over. His soul is damned, but Kane embraces God as his savior, narrowly escaping the monstrous, cloaked servant wielding Satan’s fiery sword.
He renounces violence and seeks solace in a monastery where he celebrates the church and God in a noble effort to distance himself from the devil by becoming a man of peace (he also covers his body in religious symbols, carved into his flesh as gruesome scars). After a short time, the monks realize his place is not with them and force him to journey out into the wilderness on his own. Although fiercely independent, capable, and with ceaseless faith at his side, he’s still attacked on the road by thieves. He’s taken in by kindhearted, religious traveler William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite) and his family – wife Katherine (Alice Krige), young sons Edward (Anthony Wilks) and Samuel (Patrick Hurd-Wood), and teenaged daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood).
When the group happens upon a village that has been burned to the ground, Kane realizes that a malevolent witch is hot on his trail. There’s also the matter of the tyrannous Overlord (Sam Roukin), a towering, masked sorcerer intent on kidnapping Meredith with his army of possessed raiders. His ultimate mission is to draw Kane to a foreboding castle lair, where the evil, magical priest Malachi (Jason Flemying) awaits, tasked with delivering Kane’s soul to Satan.
The slow-motion, unnatural posing, climactic music, and dramatic stares are in full swing to amplify the action. The dialogue is also designed to make Kane and his cohorts more formidable, but with an undeniably generic, battle-hardened grit attached to every grumbled word, it sounds catchpenny. The fight choreography isn’t as shabby, utilizing creative bloodshed for a few moments of genuine gusto, while computer generated effects aid the witchcraft and extensive makeup.
Costumes are exciting and elaborate, the character designs are amusing (especially the Overlord, a villain visualized to magnificently embellish the characters created by author Robert E. Howard, of Conan the Barbarian fame), and the sets (filled with mud, rain, sludge, and flames, or Malachi’s immense, bloodstained throne room) are thrilling – but all are wasted on an overdramatic twist of the commonplace antihero who must reluctantly return to the darkness of his past. It’s similar to John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West,” Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” or perhaps most famously, George Stevens’ “Shane.” The references are Westerns, but “Solomon Kane” is comparable in purpose to the top-form lone warrior roles established in such films. Director Michael J. Bassett’s Kane doesn’t possess the depth or subtle ferociousness of the aforementioned films’ leads, however, instead fumbling over a simpler revenge story. The pervasive religious themes are a touch puzzling, continually contradicting allegiance, belief, and motive – moving further away from creative moviemaking. At least the swordplay is decent, even if “Solomon Kane” can’t breach its predictable, one-track, specific target audience mindset and appeal.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)