Not-Quite-Solomon Kane: The Movie

Kane

I’ve written before about Solomon Kane, the original Caped Crusader. Though Conan the Barbarian, with his own merits, is Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation, Kane is my personal favorite. There’s just something about his fanatical thirst for justice and uncompromising faith that I find wonderfully compelling.

I recently watched Solomon Kane, the movie, on Netflix. As an action movie, it was pretty good. As a Solomon Kane movie…eh.

Like so many other films, especially superhero flicks these days, Kane is given the origin story treatment. I felt that this was a major misstep. Writer-director Michael Basset did a competent job piecing together a redemption story about a runaway lordling who defies his father, accidentally kills his brother, and becomes a villainous privateer who changes his ways after a supernatural encounter leaves him with the knowledge that Satan is gunning for his soul.

The problem is that it’s too much of a stretch to fit this background to Howard’s crusading Puritan hero. The literary Kane’s backstory is only hinted at, and while we know that he sailed with Sir Francis Drake and has seen many terrible things, there’s no suggestion of royal blood or an evil past demanding atonement. Kane wanders, dishing out justice and purging evil men and monsters, because he is a zealot.

Solomon Kane

Oh well – if we’re going to invent backstories, at least the theme of redemption is a very Christian one. It’s interesting and perhaps fitting that Kane’s Road to Damascus moment manifests in an encounter not with God, but with the Devil (or a stand-in for him).

While we’re talking about matters of faith, I found movie-Kane’s to be inconsistent with Howard’s portrayal of the character and also somewhat internally confused. Early on in the film, Kane is shown to be a sadistic, evil man, yet when face to face with a demon he claims that God will protect his soul. I’m dubious that such a blackguard would invoke God’s protection (and only moments after telling his men that he was the only devil in the castle). He also prays to God on multiple occasions throughout the film, but then mocks “simple faith” in his encounter with a priest.

Another strange out-of-character moment was the scene where Kane meets his father in the dungeon. The old lord says that the sorcerer will never leave the castle so long as he (Kane’s father) lives. He then implores Kane to mercy-kill him.

Solomon reluctantly obliges. Come on.

This is a character who in one story chokes out a friggin ghost.

There above the dead man’s torn body, man fought with demon under the pale light of the rising moon, with all the advantages with the demon, save one. And that one was enough to overcome the others. For if abstract hate may bring into material substance a ghostly thing, may not courage, equally abstract, form a concrete weapon to combat that ghost? Kane fought with his arms and his feet and his hands, and he was aware at last that the ghost began to give back before him, and the fearful laughter changed to screams of baffled fury.

– “Skulls in the Stars

I’m absolutely convinced that the real, Howardian Kane would have told his father to wait a hot minute while he went to send the sorcerer off to hell. Instead he shoots his dad.

There are glimpses of the real Kane. At one point he sets free a wagon of slaves, and the girl he is frantically questioning implores him not to hurt her. At that he comes to his senses and says something like “Go in peace, my child.” Very Kane. So too is the moment when he acknowledges the forfeiture of his soul (a bit of a goofy thread throughout the movie) for killing, but says that he’ll gladly make the trade.

One interesting quality of movie-Kane is that he’s recognized as a leader of men (though I’d say not a very good one). I find this striking because I don’t recall Howard’s Kane being portrayed in this way, but many of Howard’s other characters are indeed both fighting men and skilled leaders.

Lastly, I’d say that the action is enjoyable and Purefoy looks the part both in physical appearance and fighting ability. But I noted several of those Hollywood moments where the bad guy’s got a gun or blade to the good guy’s back – oh no, how’s he going to get out of this? Invariably he turns the situation around, of course. But it didn’t fit in this movie, where everyone is trying to kill Kane and send him to hell. The baddies wouldn’t be pausing with the weapon to his back; he’d be dead.

All in all I’d recommend giving it a watch, but with the caveat that movie-Kane is a different creature than the beloved Howardian Solomon Kane.

18 Comments

  1. I’m going to watch this as soon as I finish with the original stories.

    Solomon Kane could make for a pretty good monster-of-the-week TV show, IMO. He fits in that mold even more so than Conan.

  2. Ultimately, I think the biggest “sin” this movie committed is that it’s kinda forgettable. At least for me. The only reason I still remember its existence is because of the titular character, and nothing else. A good actor, decent action and atmosphere, and nothing else memorable about it. For the best, if you what you said is any indication(I watched it way back when it was released). Not surprising that it’s not a faithful adaptation; Solomon Kane is the antithesis of Hollywood values and beliefs. I’m honestly surprised they managed to resist the impulse to give Kane the same treatment Verhoeven gave Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

    That said, reading this article has definitely put me in the mood to re-read Howard’s original (and still best) stories featuring the puritan witchslayer. Which is never a bad thing.

    Also, origin stories is a trend in entertainment that needs to die in a fire.

  3. Bushi: Agreed. I think you nailed it: worth a look but it only has flashes of the real Solomon Kane in it, with some actions actually the opposite of what REH’s Kane would do. It’s a shame too, I like Purefoy’s work and was hoping for more Howard, less Hollywood.

    H.P. – an Solomon Kane monster-of-the-week show? That’s a great idea, I’d watch that.

  4. Is there a collected works of Solomon Kane? I’d be interested in exploring him as long as I didn’t have to dig through 70 billion short story collections. That was part of why I read as much as I did of Conan. Having a collected omnibus in hand gave me the impetus to actually read it…

    • Yup! The Del Ray collection that I’ve got linked at the top of the article (full disclosure – it’s an affiliate link) has all the Solomon Kane stories, including some fragments and poems, and if I remember correctly it’s also got an interesting mini bio of Howard and a memorial by Lovecraft. I received this volume as a gift and read it last year. Loved it.

  5. Maybe I’m mistaken but I seem to remember that Kane in the movie isn’t even a true Puritan. He basically falls in with a Puritan family and wears their garb because his clothes are messed up, and then he just sort of keeps wearing it. The movie is a great example of filmmakers going “No one can possibly be that heroic, so here’s THE ONE REASON why he goes around fighting monsters”. Hell, no.

    Bassett showed he can direct a movie, but his ideas as a screenwriter are all wrong.

  6. That Del Ray collection is great; in fact I haven’t seen any of the Del Ray REH books that wasn’t. I can only speak to the paperbacks though, haven’t read the Kindle versions.

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