A few years ago I visited the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains, Texas. I was standing in the hallway outside the tiny bedroom where he’d done his writing (the museum is the house the famed creator of Conan the Barbarian grew up in) and Arlene, the woman giving me the tour, told me how a guy had stood in that room and recited from memory the poem, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming,” and how stirring it had been. I can only imagine. To call those spirits up via booming oratory must have been something to behold.
Solomon Kane is another of Howard’s creations. Simply, he is a Puritan who travels around fighting evil and dark magic. I remember when I first read the stories I was somewhat taken aback. The majority of them take place in Africa, which was a surprise. A legendary swordsman, he is also more than willing to blast a villain in the face with his flintlock pistol as well. The stories are pure Howard, though; grim and dark, with lots of grit and dark magic swirling with evil. I enjoyed them.
This movie, the first to feature the character, was made in the Czech Republic in 2009. It didn’t get a North American release until 2012, though. I feared it was because it sucked, but a little digging will reveal generally favorable reviews. I don’t know that it ever really got a wide release in the USA. If it did, it certainly never played in Missoula. I’d been anticipating seeing it ever since I first heard about it, so when it finally came available for purchase, I jumped all over it.
I’m sure Howard purists hate it, just like they generally have most of the Conan movies that have been made (particularly the Jason Momoa version released in 2011). I’m not so picky. I just want the movie to be fun, work within the confines of its own world, and any flirtation with anything Howard-like is a bonus. I’m more than happy to let my imagination fill in all but the most glaring holes.
Solomon Kane delivers. James Purefoy (best known probably as Mark Antony in the Rome series from HBO) does a great job as Kane. The constant rain and darkness of the setting is also fantastic. The creepy evil (a scene with some ghouls in a burned-out church was as cool as anything fantasy movie-related I’ve seen) is pure Howard, and there is a pervading sense of dread and hopelessness throughout.
It is supposed to be an origin story about how Kane came to be the man he is in the Howard stories, something we didn’t really get from Howard (that I can recall). It has its share of problems; it certainly isn’t a “great movie” by any stretch of the imagination. There is a degree of predictability, some parts that made me groan a little, and it winds up getting a bit overblown, a problem that pervades modern action/adventure movies. But I found the character as portrayed close enough to the Kane I remembered to enjoy it, and taken as a dark fantasy sword swinging movie epic, it’s better than most. A few scenes were even excellent. I think there is a fairly high bar for this sort of thing, given the success of franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, and if this movie doesn’t equal them it certainly comes close enough for my tastes. Sadly, I doubt that the original plan to make this a trilogy will happen. Which is a shame, because I’d love to see a couple more. Purefoy makes a great lead for this kind of Swords & Sorcery & Mud action. I didn’t regret one moment of the late hours I spent staying up to watch this movie via iTunes on a Saturday night.