Published May 13, 2011In the world of Priest, everyone takes themselves really seriously and adheres rigidly to their one-note archetype, reasserting it through exposition whenever confronted with a new person. The dialogue is the equivalent of "Why, hello there. This is my background and this is my motivation. Soon, I will reveal a secret. How are you?" To which someone would reply, "Oh, I'm good. But my background is contradictory to yours, so we're sure to have a confrontation later." Of course, then a bunch of Silent Hill reject vampires show up and they fight in slow motion in an often confounding and illogical manner.
Coming from the director of Legion and sharing star Paul Bettany, along with a litany of religiously thematic signifiers, it's no surprise that this perpetually delayed and recast adaptation of the titular Korean graphic novel series is a desultory mess held together by moderately entertaining action. And while part of this stems from some questionable post-production editing decisions and flat, visually oriented direction, the biggest problem is the clumsy handling of a fairly comprehensive and convoluted mythology.
Rewriting history and projecting it onto a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, an expository opening animation tells of past battles between ass-kicking superhuman priests and creatures of the night, leading the church to shut human society behind an enormous wall, convincing everyone that evil no longer exists. Jump to the present with the kidnapping of a young girl (Lily Collins) and the most conflicted and stoic of priests (Bettany) is denouncing the hypocrisy and denial of the church, hopping on a motorcycle and trekking out into periphery society to revisit a dormant conflict. Along the way, he encounters a stubborn sheriff (Cam Gigandet) and a foxy priestess (Maggie Q), who help him battle the big bad (Karl Urban).
Because there are so many different religious and secular ideologues, classes and random historical background narratives, every scene that isn't littered with overly stylized and weirdly familiar action (think Underworld meets Jonah Hex ― no, really) is filled with cramped and awkward explanations. Aside from a brief hint that the Priest and Priestess want to get pelvic, there's really no characterization or humanity, which is only exacerbated by little things, like the fact that Cam Gigandet literally can't act.
What's more, once everyone shuts up and stops looking sullen, the final climactic action sequence is more amusing than thrilling, raising questions and observations such as, "it sure is convenient that the Priest keeps flying back into the exact same spot every time he gets punched" or "a motorcycle can derail a train, who knew?" (Sony)