THE LAST WITCH HUNTER
Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine, Rena Owen, Joseph Gilgun, Isaach De Bankolé
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images)
Running Time: 1:46
Release Date: 10/23/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 22, 2015
In need of a major tonal and aesthetic makeover, The Last Witch Hunter is as bland as bland can be. It would be too complimentary to say that the movie is tonally indecisive and visually ugly, because indecisiveness and ugliness can at least be interesting from a certain perspective. This movie doesn't merit being called interesting, even in a backhanded, half-hearted manner.
The movie is unappealing in its look and does take itself far too seriously, despite a few hints that it could work better with a more comical approach. Instead, the movie is content to stand its ground, assured of its place in the realm mediocrity. It doesn't try too hard so that it can't fail too hard. It doesn't take a single risk of any kind, and the result is a movie that is as dull as it is generic.
Take the hero of this story. Several centuries ago, he was a warrior for some nation or empire or tribe, who travels through a mountainous pass somewhere to kill off the witches who have cursed the anonymous land with the Black Plague (The movie, in case it isn't clear, isn't too concerned with specifics).
The first image of the witches' hovel, a huge mass of crooked trees twisting upon themselves, is impressive. Then the warriors make their way inside the witches' den, and it's a dark area surrounded by roots vines. It's intentionally vague and nondescript—just an eerie place where a lot of fighting can unfold. Director Breck Eisner makes matters worse by shooting the fight in close-up and with plenty of cuts. If the location weren't already unfavorable to visual clarity, the staging and composition of this sequence would be enough to make it unintelligible.
Kaulder (Vin Diesel, who mumbles through a lot of mumbo jumbo), the hero, kills the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), but with her raspy, dying breaths, she curses him with immortality. Cut to a present-day metropolis, where Kaulder is a warrior for the Axe and Cross, a mysterious order that detains and imprisons witches and warlocks who break the truce between their race and humanity. They're held in—you guessed it—"Witch Prison," a phrase Diesel intones with almost parodic severity.
All of this information comes at the front, helpfully narrated by Michael Caine. If a movie is going to frontload this much vital but predictable information, it might as well be vocalized by an actor like Caine.
Caine plays Kaulder's 36th Dolan, a title for the priest who accompanies him on his witch-hunting affairs and records them for posterity. Elijah Wood (of all the actors, coming the closest to having the sort of fun with the material that actually translates on screen) plays the succeeding Dolan, who appears very soon after introducing the Caine character, so take a guess as to what the plot will be.
Yes, Caine's character is attacked and left not-dead-yet by an evil practitioner of magic named Belial (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and Kaulder must go looking for the culprit. He also must discover a secret involving his own non-death and enlists the help of Chloe (Rose Leslie), a witch who can aid him in reliving his memories.
The movie's central visual motif is the kind of murky tendril-filled locale that opens the story. In fact, because Kaulder must return to his memories of the Witch Queen, the movie goes back to that place often, but even when the story isn't revisiting what we've already seen, every magical location looks almost identical—or at least identically shadowy and unremarkable. The big, final threat here is a horde of flies that, unsurprisingly, look like black streams of formless smoke spreading through the city.
Just as unremarkable are the plot, which repeats itself in between the fights (It's slightly amusing how our hero fights magical beings with an ordinary shotgun), and the characters. Kaulder is especially unexceptional. He's just another immortal hero who can't be injured, which makes every action sequence a non-starter (There is a clever line in the movie addressing that, but that doesn't stop the movie from sticking with it). Even late in the story, when Kaulder apparently has lost his curse (On that detail, the movie, once again, isn't clear), he's still just as unstoppable, tackling a giant, wooden creature that serves as the sentry for the Witch Prison without any consequences.
The Last Witch Hunter simply goes through the usual beats. It doesn't have a distinct or even identifiable personality to make it anything more than an assembly line of familiar ideas and archetypes.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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