7 Guardians of the Tomb (China/Australia, 2018)

February 22, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
7 Guardians of the Tomb Poster

You know a movie is doing something wrong when you find yourself counting to determine whether, in fact, there are seven guardians (as opposed to, for example, six or eight). 7 Guardians of the Tomb, a shameless rip-off of James Cameron’s Aliens (with a little The Mummy thrown in for decorative purposes), is that kind of film – so generic and perfunctory in nature that it’s difficult to become involved or stay immersed in the action.

7 Guardians of the Tomb dispenses with its backstory quickly via flashbacks. We learn that businessman Mason (Kelsey Grammer) has sent his best underling, Luke (Chun Wu), into the temple of an ancient Chinese Emperor looking for what amounts to the Fountain of Youth. What he finds instead is the Kingdom of the Spiders. He then loses contact. Mason hunts down Luke’s sister, Jia (Li Bingbing), and convinces her to accompany him and some others, including rugged outdoorsman Jack (Kellan Lutz, doing his best Chris Hemsworth impersonation), on a rescue mission. After enduring a series of misfortunes, they become trapped in an underground labyrinth of tunnels filled to overflowing with venomous spiders whose bite is fatal. Rescuing Luke soon becomes the least of the group’s problems.

Plot point-by-plot point, the movie tracks Aliens so closely (with spiders standing in for the xenomorphs) that it’s possible to believe co-writer/director Kimble Rendall put 7 Guardians together with an Aliens checklist in hand. Strong female lead – check. A “rescue” operation that quickly devolves into an exercise in survival – check. Alpha-type leader who bonds with the strong female lead – check. Nasty creepy crawlies approaching in stealth before attacking en masse – check. Dark corridors everywhere – check. Girl hiding out from the creepy crawlies is taken under the wing of the strong female lead – check. Pissed-off queen lurking in the nesting room for a last-act appearance – check. Back-stabbing supposed ally – check. It’s all there and you don’t have to look to hard to find it. (Sadly, however, we don’t get to hear Li Bingbing shout, “Get away from her, you bitch!”)

The acting is a mixed bag. The normally charismatic Li Bingbing appears bored by the proceedings and, although her English is fine, she appears more relaxed during the scenes when she’s allowed to speak in Mandarin. Kellen Lutz gets to stand around looking manly and heroic (although his character is scared of spiders). Kelsey Grammer hams it up big time as the human villain – a update of the character Paul Reiser played in Aliens, albeit with a stronger capacity for bombast.

With a relatively short running time, the movie doesn’t stay around long enough to become truly grating. Aspects of the story – such as the horror mandate that forces supposedly intelligent characters into doing incredibly dumb things – are annoying but the special effects are adequate, the set design is strong, and the pacing is on amphetamines. (This keeps boredom at bay but also disallows anything remotely resembling character development.)

The movie feels like what it is – a moderately low-budget action/adventure outing designed primarily for the Asian market. The North American release model is for a few theaters in concert with VOD availability. People with arachnophobia are advised to avoid 7 Guardians of the Tomb because the spiders are creepy. Everyone else is advised to avoid it because, outside of the insects, nothing else is either creepy or compelling. For a better version of pretty much the same story, invest the time in watching Aliens.

7 Guardians of the Tomb (China/Australia, 2018)

Director: Kimble Rendall
Cast: Li Bingbing, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Chun Wu, Shane Jacobson, Jason Chong, Eva Liu
Home Release Date: 2018-04-24
Screenplay: Kimble Rendall and Paul Staheli
Cinematography: Brad Shield
Music: Roc Chen
U.S. Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2018-02-23
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence, Disturbing Images, Profanity)
Genre: Horror/Adventure
Subtitles: In English and Mandarin with subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1