Priest, for unfair reasons, is getting a lot of negative reviews. I’ll shed light on why, and maybe help you decide whether you need to pick up this movie when it comes out on DVD and BluRay.
Priest is a different kind of movie, as you’ll be able to tell within the first few minutes, when the movie goes from a live-action opening into an animated monologue that explains the origin of the priests, and humanity’s war with the vampires.
I watched it twice over a weekend, and I figured out why the movie gets negative reviews. Viewers didn't know going in that it's an adaptation of a Korean comic book (partially available in the U.S. Check out the first few collections here). The movie is Americanized in some areas, but it's very much paced with a Asian cinema sensibility. Is that a bad thing? No. Is this to everyone’s taste? Also no. I still have yet to read the manga, but I was aware of it going in, and I’m familiar with manga and anime storytelling styles.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and had no problem going back a second time with friends in the same weekend.
The beautifully rendered animated sequence gives an overview of the humans' war with the vampire menace. I highly respect that it didn't come up with an origin for vampires. Instead, they and the humans have just always been. Needless to say, they’ve also always been at war. Despite having the sun on their side, the humans were losing badly.
That’s where the Priests came in. Appointed by the Catholic church, they were trained to fight vampires. The priests did what human armies couldn’t: drive the vampires to near-extinction. (You can’t expect them to wipe all of them out! Then we’d have no movie! Ahem.)
After the war, the church feared their creations and disbanded the Priests, forcing them to take whatever crappy jobs they could find and try to blend into a world that no longer needed them, and feared them on top of that. Yeah. The top dogs in the Catholic church are pricks in this flick.
Everything I've talked about so far has been from two scenes.
Another reason I was impressed with the animated sequence is because they crammed in everything we needed to know in a way that captured attention. I rarely see live-action movies that can make an animated sequence fit this well with the rest of the film.
Soon the Priest is forced to make a choice between his faith and defying the church to rescue a loved one who’s been taken by vampires in the Wastelands, a desert area that holds all the "Baptist heathens" and vampire reservations. This is where the movie brings in some thought-provoking talk on the subject of Religion vs. Faith.
It’s interesting to note that none of the Priests' names are revealed. That fits with their characters, who believe they exist only to battle evil, and names don’t matter.
One beef: The main antagonist refers to himself: the first Human Vampire. I get what they were going for, since all of the previous vampires were animalistic, and shared next to no traits with humans, it’s a contradiction to call someone a "Human Vampire."
The acting is where things get shaky. Paul Bettany’s Priest might seem rigid and unappealing. But this isn’t structured like your typical American movie, and that extends to the characters. In anime and manga, the general protagonists are the lazy, rebellious teenager, and the tough, rugged, sour-faced, stiff, not talkative badass.
Priest falls into the latter category and behaves how he’s supposed to behave: quiet and all-business, until he feels the need to throw out a witty one-liner.
My biggest problem acting-wise is with Cam Gigandet, who plays Hicks, the young smart-aleck sheriff who accompanies Priest to save the princess.
Gigandet just is not a very good actor, and his portrayal left me unimpressed. It was very plain that he was acting. He failed to make me believe in the character, and that’s a problem, but it doesn't break the movie.
The other actors included Karl Urban (Eomer from Lord of the Rings). That gave my inner-geek a squeal just by being onscreen (and made one of my friends laugh out loud with joy). Lucy Pace, who plays Priest’s niece in need of rescue, as well as Hicks’ love-interest, sells the few scenes she’s in.
I have one or two complaints about the fighting choreography in one scene, but the visuals are impressive.
The soundtrack is forgettable and could have used work. Film music couldn’t be less important to most, but it helps pull me into a movie.
Honestly, it sounds so generic that I can’t remember a single tune right now, and I just saw it a few hours ago!
Priest's jumpy pacing throws most people off, even more than stylized action sequences. The action is very much like an anime, where gritty realism is the furthest thing from creators' minds, and focus is more on making fights look breathtaking and physically impossible (if you’ve ever played Devil May Cry, you know what I’m talking about).
The movie leaves plenty of room for a sequel. If the box office was any indication, it will never be made. But don’t worry, it’s not a cliffhanger.
I have two movie-watching modes. One is the fan-mode, where I sit back and try to enjoy the movie. I’m easier to impress in that mode. I have critique-mode, where I hold a magnifying-glass to the screen and look at the movie from a more detached point-of-view.
I rarely get the chance to spend a weekend watching the same movie once in each mode, but I did that with Priest, and both times I was pleased that I’d spent the money to see it. It’s a solid film that I can’t wait to have in my personal collection when it hits store shelves next month.
I recommend this movie, but not to everyone. If you're already a fan of Asian cinema,
I give this movie 9/10.
If you have less exotic tastes, you probably won’t enjoy Priest. It gets closer to a 5.5/10.
But in a medium that overflows with movies that emphasize big explosions instead of good story, Priest is a breath of fresh air.