Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

For killing the evil Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) responsible for the Black Death, medieval flaming-sword wielding badass Kaulder (Vin Diesel) has been cursed with immortality.

He’s spent the seven hundred years or so since his Witch Queen killing days working as the Witch Police for a secret order of the Vatican tasked with the human side of operations responsible for protecting humanity from evil witches so that the rest of witch-dom and humanity can live in secret, yet peaceful co-existence. The script tells us that Kaulder is by now tired and lonely of his existence, though that sort of thing is unfortunately beyond Diesel’s thespian powers, him being Groot notwithstanding.

Anyway, things become more exciting for Kaulder when his handler, the 36th priest called Dolan (Michael Caine, who’s a Catholic priest guv’nor, right-o) is dying. What is supposedly a natural death turns out to have been murder. It’s all part of a dastardly plan to resurrect the Witch Queen, of course. Kaulder’s only help are Dolan #37 (Elijah Wood) and witch Chloe (Rose Leslie), and the cryptic hint of #36 to “remember your death”.
Breck Eisner’s urban fantasy film that starts promising to be an awesome bit of sword and sorcery got quite a drubbing from mainstream critics, who just love to kick perfectly fine popcorn cinema for the sin of being popcorn cinema. And this isn’t like one of the Michael Bay Transformers movies who deserve all the kicks they get for being just so damn badly made; this is a perfectly entertaining bit of silly nonsense, made for and succeeding in providing its audience with a bit over ninety minutes of dumb fun.

Sure, the film’s flaws are obvious: Vin Diesel is a wonderful physical presence, owns a really deep voice, and looks good in action scenes, but he’s as inexpressive an actor as they come whenever he’s supposed to express more than very basic emotions, so the whole “curse of immortality” angle falls flat, as does him convincing anyone to be several centuries old. The plot is rather on the silly side, with the film spending about half of its running time on Kaulder’s and Chloe’s adventures finding herbs for a memory potion, and the film’s big bads aren’t all that exciting either (I’d have hired British stage actresses and actors who’d go all Royal Shakespeare Company on being evil, instead of a hairy guy and a special effect).

However, these flaws aren’t terribly important for what The Last Witch Hunter is actually trying to do. Diesel is way more involved in kicking various supernatural behinds than being tragic, the film’s silliness is of an imaginative and fun kind that gets a lot of mileage out of throwing a bunch of urban fantasy clichés together, giving them a goth-y gloss, and calling it a movie, and the plot’s only an excuse to get Kaulder and Chloe to visit places like the witch model hive (all in truth disfigured in some form of course and just glamoured up the wazoo), the warlock who makes maggot cookies, and so on and so forth. I hate to go the old “if that sort of thing sounds enjoyable to you, you’ll certainly enjoy this” route, but honestly, if it does, you probably will.

You’ll also see some really cool moving fantasy airbrush art (because that’s what the production design goes for), watch a bunch of decent action sequences, see Michael Caine play a Catholic priest, and suffer through an ending that screams “we are trying to build a franchise here” as loudly as possible.

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