WRITTEN REVIEW – The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

The Last Witch Hunter
Directed by: Breck Eisner
Written by: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine & Julie Engelbrecht
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: October 23rd 2015

While actor Vin Diesel’s primary audience would appear to be teenage frat-boys due to his work on the “Fast and Furious”, “xXx” and “Riddick” movies, one aspect of his life would probably have his target demographic run for the hills in sheer disgust. Diesel is actually a huge fan of the “Dungeons and Dragons” role-playing game and that love dictates a lot of his career choices. Whether it’s voicing Groot in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘, voicing a giant robot from space in ‘The Iron Giant‘ or wanting to expand the “Riddick” universe despite the weak box-office returns, Diesel is a giant fantasy geek at heart and we love him for it.

Despite the fact that his latest genre venture, ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ is directed by Breck Eisner (‘Sahara‘ and ‘The Crazies‘) and written by screenwriters who have worked on genre flops such as ‘Priest‘ and ‘Dracula: Untold‘ this is clearly a Vin Diesel passion project. But passion does not a great-movie make (though it can certainly help) so can Vin Diesel almost single-handedly kickstart a new genre-fantasy franchise with ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ or will he come crawling back to car heists as Dominic Toretto for another ‘Fast and the Furious‘?
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800 years ago, Kaulder (Diesel), a witch hunter, was cursed with immortality after killing the Witch Queen (Engelbrecht) and has been assisting a secret organisation in collaboration with the Church to maintain a truce between humans and witches. Kaulder is assisted by a “Dolan” with his 36th Dolan (Caine) about to retire and pass on his title to the 37th (Wood), but the 36th is murdered by supernatural forces under suspicious circumstances. Kaulder and the 37th connect the killer with a plan to revive the Witch Queen and must stop her before she can destroy humankind, but Kaulder must remember something important from his past with the help of a good-Witch, Chloe (Leslie).

While the movie may be narratively lacking, ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ has a very interesting and even unique approach to fantasy-lore. After a unnecessary prologue, we see Kaulder on a plane in the present day tracking down a Witch who has jewels that can affect the weather. After he finds her, he takes the jewels away and leaves her be instead of killing her or detaining her. The truce between humans and witches isn’t one bound in warfare, it’s just about making sure that the two don’t get in the way of the other. It’s an interesting aspect in a modern-day fantasy movie where most of the time EVERY witch or EVERY gargoyle or EVERY vampire (depending on the film) is evil and needs to be killed. Some of the witches just want to get along with their everyday life and that non-conflict was refreshing.
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That having been said, ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ feels like it’s dragging its feet despite a modest 106 minute runtime and the reason for that is the complete lack of action set-pieces. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this movie needed wall-to-wall action, but the audience are not given any sort of frame-of-reference for Kaulder’s witch-hunting abilities or an understanding of the powers that the Witches or their associates possess. With the exception of the occasional punch or kick thrown throughout the film, the only action really takes place during the climax of the movie meaning that the movie needs to be held up by the drama and the characters….neither of which are particularly interesting.

The Last Witch Hunter‘ really needed one or two action sequences in the first hour to not only get across some cool visuals, but just to liven up the pace and cater to its teenage target audience. Despite having more than enough money to accomplish something like this (a budget of $70M) that money is not up on screen. In fact, if you told me that the budget of ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ was around $30M, I’d say that was a very fitting figure. The first two acts of this movie are so lacking in action that they just repeat the exact same set-piece twice; Kaulder gets drugged or knocked-out and then wakes up in chains and has to break free under duress. Seriously, that happens back-to-back.
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So, the characters that don’t exactly justify a feature-length movie consist of decent, though incredibly trite archetypes. Kaulder has the potential to be an interest witch-hunter character as he’s lived for almost a millennia, but there’s no sense of weight or life-experience outside of hunting witches. He’s just badass Vin Diesel…except he’s not given any opportunity to be a badass because there’s hardly any action until the end of the movie. The main internal conflict is that Kaulder wants to die because he wants to be reunited with his wife and daughter, but he has a responsibility to protect the world from witches. However, that conflict isn’t really explored and the movie basically ends with Kaulder having an opportunity to die but the good-witch Chloe says something along the lines of “No! I’ve seen the future and there’s gonna be a lot of bad guys/girls in potential sequels so you have to stay!”.

Judging from the box-office takings of ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘, this thing ain’t getting sequels.

Speaking of Chloe, Rose Leslie does a good job with the performance and I did find it funny how Chloe kept on yelling at Kaulder because he destroyed her nightclub, but outside of that there wasn’t much to her other than adding more to the potentially interesting mythology about witches who can alter people’s minds. Despite her lack of screentime in the trailers or the promotional material, she is the second lead of ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘, though the love-interest angle seems very forced especially since Kaulder is meant to still be pining for his deceased wife and Rose Leslie is 20 years younger than Vin Diesel.
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One aspect that REALLY needed to be expanded upon was the role of the Dolans in this universe. While the Dolans essentially act as partners to the witch-hunter, they seem to have very little to do other than do research in a library or on their Apple Macs. After watching the trailers, I was really looking forward to seeing a Vin Diesel/Elijah Wood partnership, but Elijah Wood barely has any screentime in ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘. He’s brought onto the final mission at the end, but he doesn’t contribute anything. If you’re waiting for a moment where a Priest has to fight off a witch or some satanic beast…that ain’t gonna happen. Michael Caine seems to have shown up here for an easy pay-cheque, but he does have a natural likeability and Elijah Wood is good, but he really needed more screentime to establish a character.

There’s also a rather dumb aspect of the story where Kaulder is meant to go into his own memories to find a clue to defeat the witches…even though what he learns doesn’t impact the story in any way and it’s kinda strange that he didn’t remember the aforementioned piece of information in the first place. It just comes across as killing time in order to generate intrigue when the premise should stand on its own. Really, ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ feels narratively uninspired and the creative team just don’t have the talent or the inclination to go very far with their concepts or mythology. It just comes across like a by-the-numbers Vin Diesel franchise-starter.
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Even in terms of its production values, there’s very little here that’s original. The giant money-shot monster from the trailers looks ripped straight out of a “Silent Hill” game, the red mist near the end of the movie looks identical to the “Ether” from ‘Thor: The Dark World‘ and the blending of human-kind and the mythical has been done before in recent movies like ‘I, Frankenstein‘, ‘Priest‘, ‘Ghost Rider‘ and the ‘Underworld‘ franchise. All of those movies are either better or on-par with ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘. There’s one scene where Kaulder opens up a safe in his pent-house to show off a load of weaponry and demon-killing equipment but we never get a good look at it. We’re kept at arms-length from what could be potentially awesome production-designs.

Even the mythology established 800 years ago doesn’t come across as particularly original, neither does the underground world of the witches who spend their time in nightclubs or running brothels. We never get a detailed look because ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ is too concerned about showing how sad Kaulder is about not being able to die. The make-up effects, on the other hand, are actually really good and it was definitely a smart choice to go for a full-body make-up for the Witch Queen. It’s an awesome make-up job and Julie Engelbrecht really sells the hell out of a villainess with zero redeeming features. The Steve Jablonsky score is another production highlight, but still not particularly memorable. Really, despite the $70M budget, the money just isn’t up on the screen from the finer-details to the very conception of this universe that COULD be interesting.
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The Last Witch Hunter‘ isn’t a movie that intellectually offends, or makes you angry while watching it. It’s just a passive, contemporary-fantasy action film with very little action and themes that have been explored better elsewhere and in a more entertaining and engaging way. Vin Diesel isn’t given much chance to get across his charm as the movie takes itself so gosh-darned seriously, the rest of the cast feel wasted, particularly Elijah Wood whose presence in the movie feels negligible and while there are a few interesting ideas at play for what could be a potentially compelling universe, the movie feels no need to develop them in what the studio is clearly hoping to be a launchpad to a franchise. It’s not terrible, but there’s really no reason to see what will probably be the first and last witch-hunter mope around his pent-house suite.

I give ‘The Last Witch Hunter‘ 2 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 2nd Nov 15