“The Book of Eli,” “Firefly” (a TV series), and 2011's “Priest” all have something in common. They all portray a religious man who is an undercover ninja. However, only the latter fails to deliver an interesting or fair plot in a genre that practically writes itself.
Paul Bettany's second Christianity-meets-apocalypse movie in as many years, following “Legion” (2010), enters into a war-torn world between humans and vampires. Bettany's character, known only as Priest, was a champion for the movie's myopic version of the Catholic Church in the victorious war against vampires. However, his loyalty to the church is tested when his niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), is kidnapped by a new brood of vampires and the church prevents him from exacting justice.
Priest presents himself before the governing council of the church – the Monsignors – asking them to reinstate his powers as ninja-priest so he can pursue the animal-like vampires and rescue Lucy. Chief Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) tersely refuses Priest's request denying that vampires are still active.
In spite of the evidence, Orelas defiantly declares that the war between man and vampires is over – thanks to an army of priests … like Priest. Yet, despite Priest's great sacrifice for the church in the war, Orelas orders him to stay within the city walls or he will be excommunicated.
Priest defies the habitually obtuse judgment of the church in a bloody confrontation with the clergy's enforcers. Once outside the city walls, Priest joins forces with Hicks (Cam Gigandet) the sheriff of a nearby town and the imaginatively named Priestess (Maggie Q), a former sister-in-arms of Priest in the war against vampires.
Hicks leads Priest to one of the many “reservations” where the church placed the surviving “tribes” of vampires after the war – in a misguided reference to the Catholic Church's treatment of Native Americans.
As Priest's loyalties wane from the church to his own sense of justice Priestess tells him, “You do not get your power from the church, you get it from God.” This moment in the movie praises the rejection of corrupt religious authority, but implies a rejection of religious authority in general as Priest is personally liberated from the oppressive authority.
Pursuing the blood thirsty bandits the from the reservation leads Priest and his vagabond troop to an encounter with the arch-nemesis – Black Hat (Karl Urban).
Priest discovers that Lucy was kidnapped not by vampires, but by Black Hat, a super-powerful priest-vampire combination who is building an army of new vampires to infiltrate the city walls. He wears a black hat.
Once a compatriot of Priest, Black Hat brings the movie to a culmination when he confronts Priest with his plan to unleash a new order of crossbreed dominance.
The movie misrepresents the history, teaching, and purpose of the Catholic Church with a remarkably unambitious plot. Its superficial criticisms of the Church are unrealistic and recycled. In a genre ripe with potential for substance and meaningful metaphors this movie falls flat (along with the dimensionality of the characters) compared to a movie like “Book of Eli.”
Cheap-shots at the Church, sacrilege and a dearth of artistic merit prevent a favorable recommendation of this movie.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.