“The eyes of the man in black,” Robert E. Howard writes of his pulp hero Solomon Kane, “were cold but deep; gazing into them, one had the impression of looking into countless fathoms of ice.” Howard’s third most famous creation, after Conan and Kull, Solomon Kane fought his way through a handful of adventures distinguished mostly by Howard’s usual breathless prose and the hero’s identity as a supernatural creature fighting Puritan, kicking ass for the Lord across several continents, circa 1700 A.D. It’s taken a while for Kane to make it to the big screen, maybe because fantasy barbarians and long-ago kings have more immediate appeal than pious, slouch-hat-wearing men with poor senses of humor, but Solomon Kane gives it a go anyway. The results suggest a compelling movie could be made from the material, even if it isn’t this one.
Writer-director Michael Bassett keeps and expands on the character’s religious background, making him an accomplished man of war who turns to God to seek forgiveness, both for the blood he’s shed in battle and for an offense against his own family. After leaving a religious retreat, Kane (James Purefoy) hooks up with a Puritan family headed by the late Pete Postlethwaite (whose presence reveals Solomon Kane’s time on the shelf). Their peaceful ways appeal to Purefoy, but they’re put to the test when some monstrous baddies attack his newfound family. Will he be forced to renounce his days-old pacifism in order to take down some demonic hordes controlled by Jason Flemyng?
It isn’t really that much of a question, and while Solomon Kane pays lip service to its hero’s moral turmoil, it’s little more than a delivery device for rounds of unimaginative, CGI-heavy fight scenes of the sort most often found in numeral-trailing films featuring Milla Jovovich or Kate Beckinsale. Though the novel setting—a rural England plagued by demons—has potential, every other element remains defiantly ordinary and unrelentingly dreary, taking cues from the gray-on-gray color scheme and Purefoy’s glowering performance. He has the “countless fathoms of ice” part down, but little else here captures the rousing spirit of Howard’s rousing stories, or suggests why this particular pulp oddity deserved dusting off.