I talk an awful lot about H.P. Lovecraft up in this bitch but I never talk about Lovecraft’s buddy, the equally as weird and exponentially more macho motherfucker of pulp, Robert E. Howard. Where Lovecraft dealt in cosmic horror and madness, Howard was all about testosterone and packed his fiction with balls and blood, tales of bad dudes who live in worlds of absolute. Not familiar with Howard? Understand this, he is responsible for creating Conan The Barbarian. To a lesser extent he also created Kull The Conqueror but my personal favorite Robert E. Howard badass is Solomon Kane.
While my personal feelings about killing machines motivated by a strong personal connection with God is that they’re bad, Solomon Kane is just so righteous. The Howard vision of the character was like something out of a Black Sabbath song (rather, the other way around). Kane is a lone figure of pale complexion, dressed always in black and wearing a slouch hat. He has no real back story and as flimsy as that sounds, his adventures are morbid affairs that have him rooting out evil in all its insidious forms and then hacking them to pieces, burning the pieces and then pissing on the ashes. That which he doesn’t hack, he shoots full of holes and then makes with the burning and pissing. Solomon Kane was singularly committed to destroying evil and it’s hard not to like a character like that. Director Michael J. Basset’s version of Kane is, well, loose, to put it lightly, but he manages to get so much of it right and in the end turns in one hell of a fantasy epic on a fraction of the budget of the sort of garbage Hollywood offers the multiplexes. Man, if you’re a fan of decapitation, look no further than Solomon Kane. This dude chops off heads like it’s going out of style.
North Africa, 1600: Solomon Kane is a privateer for the Queen’s navy, whipping Moorish ass in the name of God and money. After a disastrous raid on a heathen stronghold kills nearly all of his ship’s crew, he goes toe to toe with the Devil’s bill collector, a towering figure in black (which points at me) with a flaming sword that is out to collect Solomon’s wicked soul. Solomon manages an escape and gives up his evil ways, taking sanctuary in a monastery. The monastery shows him the door after a while, though, and while wandering aimlessly, Kane takes up with some puritans on their way to the coast to ship out for America, but before they can get there, a demonic force of brigands raids their camp, kills most of the puritans and kidnaps a girl whose father pleads with Solomon to rescue. Kane leaves his path of pacifism at this point and returns to his proven technique of fucking dudes up in the name of the lord.
If there’s one thing that’s a little disconcerting about Solomon Kane it’s that the setting really isn’t that long ago when you think about it. America had been “discovered” by Columbus at this point, there were colonies here. The renaissance had happened. Art and technology were moving along at a nice pace. The dark ages were behind us but this setting for Solomon Kane looks like something from thousands of years ago. It has all the pieces to make a nice fantasy epic and that’s totally awesome but roving bands of heathens seem out of place in the 17th century. All of this is, of course, some downright nerdy nitpicking because if there’s one thing Solomon Kane is about, it’s about people being hacked to pieces with a sword and man alive! Solomon Kane delivers in this department.
The picture, a sort of Solomon Kane origin story and the first in a planned trilogy of movies (haven’t heard that one before) is a pretty kick ass feature that boasts a solid cast featuring Pete Potlesthwaite and Max Von Sydow but is floated on the first tortured then determined performance of James Purefoy, a dead ringer for Hugh Jackman. The acting range of man wielding a sword doesn’t bear terribly high expectations but Purefoy’s turn reminds me of the final act of Brotherhood of the Wolf where our understated hero is suddenly pushed over the edge and throws up his hands in order to start with the slashing of necks.
Marred occasionally by poor production values in the CGI department, Solomon Kane makes up for it with a series knockout action setpieces that look both expensive and impressive on a Peter Jackson in Hollywood level. Elaborate practical sets ground Solomon Kane in a world that feels like the sort of place you can actually visit, not that you’d want to what with it being stocked with poverty stricken people and roving gangs of killers corrupted by evil. Solomon Kane seems like a fantasy roleplay sesh based in the Warhammer world and boasts a ton of great costumes and monsters. There’s a tragic waste of a villain known as The Sorceror, the film’s big bad who only shows up in the final act of the movie to be revealed as someone we haven’t seen at all yet manages to nab one of the movie’s coolest character designs. At his right hand is a menacing heavy that plays like a cross between Leatherface and Darth Vader. His identity is fairly easy to figure out, unfortunately.
This Solomon Kane feature is based very loosely on the original Solomon Kane story but flies off in all directions, ballooning the scope until it becomes something more recognizable in the fantasy vein. Though it doesn’t even need to be, the scale of Solomon Kane is very familiar in terms of Megaplex fantasy epics. One monstrous evil army faces off against a righteous band of good guys even though the source material was never even like that. Barring the tired cliche of the huge fantasy action movie, Solomon Kane delivers heaping portions of ass kickings, a rock solid cast of heroes and villains and once the budget catches up with the production, a series of killer special effects, both practical and CGI. Produced on a budget considered laughable by contemporary fantasy movie standards, Solomon Kane is the movie that most of those adequately fantasy flicks wish they could be. Finally, a dark fantasy actioner comes along that has genuine adult appeal. This is a genre that sheds years with every new release, becoming appropriate for younger and younger audiences, leaving blood thirsty, genre loving adults like me in the dust wondering where the decapitation and dismemberment is.