Priest (2011)

Priest 3D – if you’re hoping for an explosive, 3D version of The Beautification of Pope John Paul II, with a 360 shot of a clergyman reading out a sermon accompanied by some operatic choir boy singing, then you’ll be gravely disappointed. Those expecting a massively dumb, cliché-ridden, absolutely absurd action flick filled with vampires, knife-wielding priests and Brad Dourif will be incredibly pleased. Priest is fun, but laughably silly.

We begin with a nifty little cartoon sequence – that pushes the 12A boundaries with blood, body-parts and war – explaining how mankind has spent it’s existence fighting against vampires, in medieval times, in world wars, probably whilst Jesus was being hammered to a couple of sticks. It sets up the film’s reality – an alternate reality – which ends with Mankind eradicating the vampire menace through killer super-Priests. Or have they? No. Of course not.

Mankind has walled itself in huge church-run cities, dictated over by Christopher Plummer (at least in one of the cities, anyway), whilst some Humans have scattered themselves amongst the unexplained wasteland that the rest of Earth has inexplicably become. These outlanders are now cowboys, naturally, and live a scrabbling existence and are basically heathen Godless scum (in Christopher Plummer’s eyes, anyway).

One fine day in heathen scum-land, the Pace family is set upon by a pack of vamps and they kidnap young Lucy (Lily Collins) and butcher her parents. Her only living relative is a retired priest called… erm… Priest (Paul Bettany) and he defies the church in order to hunt down the vampire rotters who’ve snatched his niece.

Then action happens. Lots of action. In 3D. Knives fly, guns fire, holy water splashes, motorcycles chase, families die, vampires leap, trains explode and a huge CGI lair-guarding monster takes a serious clerical beating. Sound thrilling? Well, it’s certainly entertaining, but it’s utterly derivative and so caked in cliché that it’s laughably bad. This is not a huge surprise, coming from the director of the ridiculous mess that was Legion (Scott Charles Stewart), which also stars Paul Bettany in a very similar role.

Priest is loosely based on Hyung Min-woo’s Manga series of the same name. Very loosely, in fact. The comics are set in an alternate reality too, but it’s a steam-punk dystopian future filled with cowboys and all kinds of supernatural creatures, not just vampires. There are tiny elements of this throughout Priest, but they appear lobbed in for fans and end up feeling stolen or horribly out of place.

Not only is Priest a bulging sack of filthy clichés, it also shamelessly robs images, scenes and ideas from hundreds of other films and TV series; there are elements nicked from The Matrix, Dark City, Equilibrium, Brazil, The Book of Eli, Mad Max and Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, to name a tiny few. Priest is not it’s own film, but a Frankenstein’s monster brought to life by Hollywood’s magic dollar-lightning.

Sadly the 3D is also an afterthought, delaying the film for a year whilst the creators kick up the excitement levels by adding things COMING AT YOU in your face. Things like throwing stars and swords and CGI monsters. It’s ropey, pointless 3D at its finest and simply adds to the overall ridiculousness of the piece. Fun, but entirely soulless.

As our hero, Paul Bettany opts for the Christian Bale approach to gravely seriousness by adopting a lozenge-starved voice and a perpetual “who farted?” face of disgust. The supporting cast also po-face their way through the film, reeling off obvious exposition for the idiots in the cheap seats. You have to feel sorry for Cam Gigandet, who plays the gun-slinging sheriff Hicks, as he can add Priest to his list of craptacular films… which include Twilight, The Unborn, Pandorum, Burlesque and The Roommate. Someone get Gigandet a new agent, fast.

Karl Urban survives this ugly seriousness by swaggering through the movie as cowboy vampire ex-priest “Black Hat”. He’s the best thing in Priest by a long shot. That and Brad Dourif, who is always awesome.

Those scared of accidentally becoming a Catholic by watching Priest should not worry. The religious side of Priest is almost entirely ignored and the “church” is treated like any other 1984 / Equilibrium / V for Vendetta style big brother government that forces obedience and denies knowledge of facts. Ironically, Paul Bettany is actually an atheist, despite playing an albino monk in The Da Vinci Code, the archangel Michael in Legion and now a kick-ass priest in Priest. Maybe he should do something he believes in… because the lack of belief permeates the entire film and only Karl Urban seems to understand the absurdity of it all.

Overall Priest is stupid fun. If you loved Legion, you’ll have a multiple pant-splatter over Priest, but the majority of us will find it woefully constructed and one big scummy cliché. Stupid, ridiculous, fun, accidentally funny and very silly.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

2 Comments on “Priest”

  1. Rag says:

    I feel kinda bad. I’m starting to get the impression that the only times I put finger to keyboard is to disagree with the estimed Mr S. And yet I hold him in such high regard (even before he got quoted on the big screen).

    But once again I feel his standards are too high. He is not appreciating this film for what it is. It is a comic (or graphic novel/movie if you wanna get arsey). It doesn’t have a huge Hollywood budget, and really doesn’t try to be.

    For me it ticks so many boxes. I love post appocalytic, cyber/steam punk, vampire, action and medieval genres. Finding them all in one film filled me with as much glee as I got from watching Doomsday. And in this one they have huge bikes (who hasn’t read 2000ad and not wanted a Lawmaster)!!!

    No, it’s not particularly slick. It’s not particularly tightly scripted. It’s not going to challenge your views on life. But it is damn good fun. Things explode, vamps jump about really fast, the heroes cut up an shoot the bad guys, characters agonise over mildy pretentious shit. And there are big bikes!. It is a couple of hours of my life that I consider well spent. And fully intend to spend it at least once or twice more.

    You can ask more from a movie… But you can get so much less. Add 2 or 3 skulls and you got my rating.

    • Scullion says:

      Hey Rag,

      That’s the joy of films – they divide opinion! I cannot legitimately add 2 or 3 skulls to this review based on it being really good fun – otherwise absolute shit like Shark in Venice would get 8 of out 10 for being so utterly terrible it’s accidentally hilarious. I try and look at a film as a whole, not just whether it was a forgettable laugh or not!

      Preist’s budget was an estimated $60 million – how is that not having a “huge Hollywood budget”. That’s massive!

      Perhaps it’s your love of Doomsday that suggests to me you have a love for this sort of film – I found Doomsday to be a little “messy” to say the least – but I’m glad someone liked it. And liked Priest. I found it predictable and horribly overwrought, but that’s just me…

      Keep having differing opinions! It’s what makes reviewing / watching / enjoying / hating films so interesting!!

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