Priest is the kind of movie that sets up a really neat alternate universe that looks like a steampunk version of Orwell's 1984, then turns it all into a fairly straightforward action movie with tons of CGI. When it's all over 80 minutes later, you're left thinking this could have been so much more.
The premise of this story is that humans and vampires fought for centuries until specially trained priests finally put the vampires at rest. After the war was over, the church/government took over and forced everyone into subservience. When a new vampire threat emerges, one priest (Paul Bettany) goes out to investigate despite being threatened by the high priest (a criminally underused Christopher Plummer) not to go. Basically, the priest goes rogue to stop an army of vampires and has very little help. It never makes much sense why everyone tried to stop Bettany in the first place.
Visually, this movie is all kinds of impressive. It probably doesn't hurt that the director is mainly a visual effects guy and has work on stuff like Iron Man and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This takes place in another world that is not named and it never gives any kind of year, so you have a nice mixture of old and new technology combined with a religious air that just screams Big Brother. Many of the costumes, with their leather coats, goggles, and giant guns, seemed inspired by the steampunk genre. I liked the eclectic mix and the fact that it's a completely original setting so it doesn't have to abide by any rules as far as technology.
The action scenes, in my opinion, weren't all that great. I don't get down on humans fighting CGI characters unless they are giant monsters like in Cloverfield. Otherwise, I find myself analyzing the computer graphics and animation of the computer generated foes. When the humans fight each other, there's a bunch of that stuff where one punch will send somebody flying thirty feet through the air, then they land on their feet like nothing happened. I just don't get anything out of that kind of ridiculous wire work.
I know this was originally shot in 3D, and that might explain why the 2D version has a bunch of fisheye camera shots where everything looks weird and stretched out. I've seen plenty of movies shot in 3D and then converted to 2D where you can tell when stuff is supposed to fly at the camera, but I've never seen such skewed lens issues before. It was a little distracting.
Paul Bettany plays the lead here, and I still don't get why he is trying to be an action star. He's a skinny British guy that is incredibly charming when he wants to be. He was awesome in A Knight's Tale and excellent in Master and Commander, yet here lately I keep seeing him play freaks with weird looks and voices. He spends this movie talking in a dry Batman kind of voice that sounds like a skinny British guy trying to impersonate Clint Eastwood. Karl Urban mainly had a bunch of one-liners and some fighting to do, but he got down the vampire look pretty well and his Solomon Kane outfit worked for the part. Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton from True Blood) has a supporting role and so does Cam Gigandet from the first Twilight movie. How many vampire movies is too many?
Priest was directed by Scott Charles Stewart, who also did the movie Legion with Paul Bettany. If you haven't seen that one yet, I do not recommend it. As for this one, it was fairly entertaining but I expected a lot more from such a rich setting. Eighty minutes is just too short to tell a story like this and try to establish the setting and characters. It's worth checking out if you like sci-fi movies, but don't expect too much depth.