It’s 1600, somewhere in North Africa, and a group of freebooters are ransacking a palace. They’re led by Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), who’s interested in more than just gold. He’s trying to save his soul — really save his soul, since the Devil wants to claim it.
A year later, Solomon’s in a monastery in England. It doesn’t matter that Henry VIII closed all the monasteries decades earlier, since this England looks like a cross between the Middle Ages and a post-apocalyptic future. In other words, it looks like a whole lot of video games. Who knew there were skinhead and zombie equivalents in late-Elizabethan England?
A life of holiness isn’t for Solomon — “There are many paths to redemption,’’ he observes, “not all of them peaceful’’ — so off he goes, wearing a Puritan hat that looks suspiciously like a Stetson. A kindly family befriends Solomon. Alas, they run afoul — there’s a lot of running afoul — of a band of raiders who answer to an evil sorcerer, Malachi. There ensue various beheadings, dismemberments, and crucifixions. Yes, crucifixions. This very bloody movie is suffused with a bogus religiosity that believers will likely find offensive and nonbelievers just goofy.
The pulp writer Robert E. Howard, better known for unleashing Conan the Barbarian, created Solomon back in the ’20s. The movie lacks the derring-do of Howard’s stories. It’s all stylized grimness. Purefoy has a presence, but meteorology is the real star. It’s always raining or snowing or misting. This makes for a nice visual, but it also makes the scenes look interchangeable. This is even more of a problem because the writer-director, Michael J. Bassett, imparts no shape to the story.
Many movies suffer from worse problems, but not many waste the talents of Max von Sydow, as Solomon’s father, or Pete Postlethwaite. Wait a minute, you say, didn’t Postlethwaite die almost two years ago? Yes, he did. “Solomon Kane’’ has been sitting around since 2009. Maybe it would have been better off staying there, like Solomon in that monastery.