The Last Witch Hunter is a tale of a witch hunter named Kaulder played by Vin Diesel. This viking-like warrior from a medieval-esque era is cursed with immortality after slaying the Queen Witch (with a flaming sword!). This in turn causes magic to dissipate over time and forces witches to hide themselves amongst their non-magical counterparts. A pact is formed and it is Vin Diesel’s – ughh I mean Kaulder’s -responsibility to uphold it and bring rogue witches to justice by incarceration. Along the way, he is assisted by an order of priests each named Dolan, sworn under oath to serve until they die. His most dear assistant Dolan 37th, played by Michael Caine, is soon to be replaced by number 38, Elijah Wood. In a turn of events, the Queen Witch is not in fact dead and Kaulder must do all he can to stop her from gaining her long lost powers and freeing all the witches he has captured over the years.
Overall, this film was very disappointing for me despite the fact that my expectations were nearly as low as could be. This could be because I don’t have much interest in role playing games (RPG), as some do. That being said, it had some good moments and some concepts that are mentioned briefly are quite interesting if you dwell on them. (For example, the idea that witches inhabited the world before human beings and were somehow part of a more natural world order is suggested, only in passing. Kind of cool?) It stands that this movie might actually be appealing to a niche market of people. This perhaps includes Dungeons and Dragons fans, (I don’t mean to offend D&D fans, but Vin Diesel apparently digs it) those who enjoy CGI saturated movies and those who just can’t get enough Vin Diesel, who seems to be even more Vin Diesel-y than in his previous films.
Now, I’m not a film snob and I do enjoy the occasional mindless visual-effects fiestas that are usually wanting in substance. This movie however, despite having somewhat of an interesting story, was mostly uncompelling. It felt to me as though a more effective hook was needed to keep audiences interested. That is not to say there were no prominent features, only that they lacked effectiveness. First was the use of magic. It felt to me that magical forces were used recklessly and seemed cheap as the were often an easy way out of sticky situations. At some points, the word seemed like a tag-line (For instance, in one scene Kaulder Diesel pauses and after finding a clue simply mumbles: “Magic.” A hashtag almost seemed appropriate.) Also, magic felt clunky and somehow anachronistic in a modern setting. That being said, I did enjoy the sequences which were set in the past only because Vinny looked awesome sporting a viking beard. Essentially, an earlier period would better suit witch hunting in my opinion.
Obviously the use of magic warrants a great visual spectacle and it seems to me like the VFX suffer a quantity vs. quality issue. While the effects at times were good, they felt unexceptional by today’s standards and this made the film less effective overall. Although I’m very happy to see CGI used outside of the super-hero realm.
One of the more obvious issues I had with this movie is its apparent identity crisis. While the humour was lightly peppered throughout, I couldn’t help but notice that I was laughing at times I felt were inappropriate (along with most people). I will explain. In some instances, moments of tenderness between Kaulder and a half-witch named Chloe (played by Rose Leslie) were awkward, causing the audience to chuckle. Also, moments of apparent seriousness and even a fight scene in particular seemed to be undercut by comedy. Maybe if they would’ve went all out in a clear direction, (even action-comedy) it would have been more effective? But I can’t be sure.
Also, this movie pretends to be a bad-ass reimagining that ultimately feels undigested and inconsistent. We are shown a style that has it’s foot halfway out the door but fails to follow through and deliver anything tangible, as if the ‘new-spin’ on this witch tale sadly only turned 180 degrees and keeled over. (An example of full fledge revamping of an old story would be Underworld or Van Helsing, both with similar themes).
On a final note, the performances were okay, but it didn’t feel like anything else would have been suitable given the narrative. The characters were dimensionless yet they served their purpose and it was kind of sad to see such a great cast of characters. In the end, it was Kaulder I had difficulty understanding. The narrative tries to convince us he is this melancholy eternal being who mourns the loss of of his wife and daughter. Yet it was jarring to see many light-hearted moments and he smiles the most I’ve seen in any of his films. Also, I must mention that Julie Engelbrecht was great as the Queen Witch only because her makeup effects were really outstanding.
In the end, you get what you expect. The trailer gets more exciting than the movie. I would recommend this movie to Fast & The Furious fans as a joke. Fans of Diesel’s other films might appreciate.
2 stars out of 10
The Last Witch Hunter is now playing in theatres.