THE LAST WITCH HUNTER
2015, PG-13, 106 mins.
2015, PG-13, 106 mins.
Vin Diesel as Kaulder / Rose Leslie as Chloe / Michael Caine as Dolan 36th / Elijah Wood as Dolan 37th / Julie Engelbrecht as Witch Queen / Lotte Verbeek as Helena / Isaach de Bankolé as Schlesinger / Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Belial / Bex Taylor-Klaus as Bronwyn / Allegra Carpenter as Fatima / Aimee Carrero as Miranda / Armani Jackson as Armani / Samara Lee as Little Girl / Stephanie Bertoni as Wall Street Witch / Inbar Lavi as Sonia
Directed by Breck Eisner / Screenplay by Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless
LAST WITCH HUNTER is one of the most Vin Diesel-y Vin Diesel movies that
I’ve seen in quite some time.
He plays yet another in a long line of emotionally grim, stone cold faced, gravel voiced, and ruthlessly determined anti-heroes, but this time he’s immortal, which makes him all the more emotionally grim, stone cold faced, and ruthlessly determined.
Beyond obvious sarcasm, Diesel at least understands his
performance and range limitations and, for the most part, can make even
the most unwatchable action films crackle with a modest amount intrigue.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is a centuries-spanning supernatural thriller
that harnesses the actor’s particular brand of bass heavy vocal charm,
but the whole film built around him and his character is so relentlessly
expository that I became more listless than entertained by the whole
affair. Less flat footed and
dull scripting would have greatly benefited this film, seeing as it does
possess some instances of great visual flair and production design, but on
a level of world building THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is a plodding and
The film at least
has a fairly sensational – if not over directed and choppily edited -
opening sequence set 800 years ago, during which time a grizzled
and battle hardened warrior Kaulder (Diesel) leads a ragtag and motley
crew of monster hunters to rid the world of the vile Witch Queen (Julie
Engelbrecht), who is revealed to be the one that actually caused the
Black Death. Even though
Kaulder and his clan manage to gain victory over the extraordinarily
powerful and dangerous witch, she nevertheless – just before she passes
on – curses Kaulder with a spell of immortality (although the script
never fully rationalizes why she does this in the first place).
Realizing the sheer enormity of the spell that’s been cast upon
him, Kaulder prepares himself for the long hall, so to speak and we later catch up with Kaulder in the modern day…who still looks
good for an 840-ish-year-old witch slayer.
Through even more
exposition we learn that Kaulder – while obviously staving off merciless
boredom – has been working for hundreds of years for a secret
underground society called The Axe and Cross, which is managed by Dolan the
36th (a criminally underused Michael Caine), a priest that’s
about to retire and be taking over by – yup – Dolan the 37th
(Elijah Wood, looking mostly confused and out of place here).
Kaulder not only has to deal with a Dolan greenhorn to train, but
he now has to do so while investigating suspicious events that are
plaguing his city (none of which ever seem to be noticed by the public at
large, the police, news and social media, and so forth).
Things really go south when Kaulder finds Dolan the 37th
has mysteriously been killed (or was he?), which leads him on a foot chase
through the supernatural world that pinpoints the Witch Queen (now
potentially resurrected) as the culprit.
Along the way he begrudgingly teams up with another good witch
Chloe (Rose Leslie), who can tap into minds and see your dreams.
With more and more of the Witch Queen’s minions beginning to pop
up and wreak havoc, Kaulder must use Chloe to enter his mind and help him
remember a key memory that could give them all the advantage to stop the
witch queen once and for all.
There are so many
dull scenes that typify THE LAST WITCH HUNTER where characters talk and
talk…and talk…about their world, the uneasy alliance between
humanity/witch hunters and witches, and the battle that’s waged between
them for nearly a millennia that they seriously undermine the whole
forward momentum of the film. To
be fair, films such as this require the audiences to be educated on the
particulars of its universe, but so much time is wasted on the specifics of Kaulder’s daily business activities with his Dolans that it inspires
boredom in viewers. Kaulder
is a strange character to begin with that’s never fully explored on any
meaningful level. The script
never once taps into the hellish mental nightmare that being immortal
would have on Kaulder’s psyche, but it does manage to have scenes of him
using his gifts to, for example, flirt with and bed flight attendants.
A better film would have honed in on the wounded and beleaguered
soul that is Kaulder, but this one doesn’t have the time or aptitude for
that kind of thematic discourse.
serving as producer) does fit into his weakly scripted role relatively
well, even though it doesn’t place much demands on him.
I think that, deep down, he’s smart enough to know what kind of
film he’s occupying and just, well, goes for it as best as he can.
He’s partnered up with the fetching and lively Rose Leslie (from
GAME OF THRONES), who helps add a bit of colorful eccentricity to the
film that it otherwise lacks. She
has a wide-eyed earnestness in the film that acts as a welcome foil to
Diesel’s perpetually stoicism, even when the screenplay is replete with
delegating her to a one note sidekick that the hero has to bark orders at
all the time. When will
modern Hollywood films abandon rampant sexist action film clichés of the
male hero telling his female companion “You can’t come with me, it’s
too dangerous”? Chloe is a
mind reading witch that can tap into your dreams…she seems like she
could handle herself in a battle if need be.
THE LAST WITCH
HUNTER is paradoxically arresting on a level of production design and
visual effects and feels woefully artificially and soulless because of it.
This film frequently looks good, but CG is so laboriously used
during many of the obligatory fight sequences that all the tension and
suspense that should have been there is hopelessly AWOL.
More times than not, THE LAST WITCH HUNTER looks like a sub par
hyperactive video game than a movie, as director Breck Eisner (who did
make the very decent and underrated horror thriller remake THE
CRAZIES) pummels viewers with fatiguing pixel-laced fakery.
Even the manner that he hyperactively cuts action sequences (sigh)
renders many of them in indistinguishable and incoherent flourishes of
dark blurs. What is the point
of building a world like this if you can’t see what’s happening on
screen? Diesel does look
cool, though, swinging around his flaming sword, dealing out all sorts of
monosyllabic witch bashing mayhem that only he could make interesting.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER contains a would-be shocking plot revelation that’s not so much shocking as it is insipid. That, and it’s never fully detailed what the Witch Queen’s final plan of comeuppance is after centuries of remaining dormant and in hibernation. Then, after all of this, the film – as far too many do these days – goes out of its way to methodically set up potential sequels as opposed to having a sense of strong closure that merely teases at the thought of sequels. Ultimately, it’s hard to really care about THE LAST WITCH HUNTER: it’s a flashy, yet murky fantasy thriller that feels, more than it should, like one of those instantly disposable Vin Diesel-y placeholder films in-between FAST AND FURIOUS entries.
Maybe there should be witches in the next FF installment? I’d pay top dollar to see that.