Review: ‘The Last Witch Hunter’
REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser
This grandly silly movie should come with a birth announcement. If it succeeds, it’s the creation of a new Hollywood franchise. If not, well — the movie world is littered with the reeking bodies of failed concepts.
‘THE LAST WITCH HUNTER’
The “last” witch finder, riiiiiiiight. Would the sequel be named “The Second to the Last Witch Finder” then? No way. They’d want this thing to ride as long and “The Fast and the Furious.”
And one of the things that Hollywood would love about this potential franchise is that there’s no canon. It comes from nowhere, essentially, sparked solely by actor Vin Diesel’s obsession with playing “Dungeons and Dragons.” That’s a clean start, unencumbered by previous corporate ownership, not to mention legions of fanboys criticizing every move. It’s all new territory.
Not strictly new, mind you. “The Last Witch Hunter” bristles with the tropes of Dungeons and Dragons, both with the find-a-clue-and-proceed plotting and the visual design, which is grimly dank and well-articulated, as well as hundreds of low-paid CGI minions can model it.
Here we go: Eight centuries ago, the world was full of humans (who had no power beyond sheer numbers and a bottomless well of weltschmerz) and witches, who had magic and could manipulate the natural world. The witches were ruled by a Witch Queen who lived in a giant Witch Tree.
Humans who were annoyed by witches invaded the Witch Tree. Somehow, amidst a flurry of dark special effects, the human leader, Kaulder (Diesel, sporting a Viking ‘do) whacks the Witch Queen. Kaulder, in turn, is blessed/cursed with immortality and becomes the Witch Hunter, responsible to catching bad witches and putting them in Witch Jail.
Not making up these terms. If you sense a certain laziness in naming conventions in the script, you’d be right.
And, of course, Kaulder isn’t the “last” Witch Hunter, he’s the original, and fated to continue witch-hunting as long as tickets continue to sell.
Kaulder is aided in this over the years by what appears to be a secret cabal within the Catholic church (The Witch Committee?). In this origin film, he’s aided by Elijah Wood as a bug-eyed young priest and Michael Caine as a rheumy-eyed ancient priest. Caine spends most of the movie sleeping, which, if I were Caine, I would have insisted upon in the script,
Kaulder then gains a kind of ingenue witch-hunting intern, played by the lovely, sharp-faced Rose Leslie, whom you might remember as the wildling Ygritte from “Game of Thrones.”
“Last Witch Hunter” is directed with no particular flare by Breck Eisner, the son of the Walt Disney tycoon.
Does it work? Yes, mostly because of Diesel and Leslie, who clearly love this kind of loony fun. They have great chemistry, and the film has a clever sense of self-awareness that turns it into more of a funhouse ride than a gloomy piece of supernatural angst. It’s funny when it needs to be, and fun even when it isn’t.