Starring: Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious 7), Elijah Wood (Sin City), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Michael Caine (The Dark Knight)
Director: Breck Eisner (Sahara)
Writers: Cory Goodman (Priest) and Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold)
Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes
Release Date: 21 October (UK), 23 October (US)
I’m a sucker for a ridiculous high concept action movie, especially those that delve into pre-existing mythologies and put a new twist on them. Pity most of them suck these days. Films like Resident Evil or I, Frankenstein could be good, but they get far too caught in looking cool rather than being entertaining; Underworld showed some promise in this department, but has since devolved into nonsense. I had some hope that The Last Witch Hunter could break the mould but, even though it tries just a little harder that its brethren, it’s still not enough.
I give massive points to The Last Witch Hunter for at least being somewhat self-aware. So many films of its ilk are far too earnest about their frankly ludicrous stories that they forget to have fun. This movie can at least make a joke or two about itself or sprinkle in humour to liven things up. However, it doesn’t do it quite enough to balance out the tone and the movie still mostly falls into the taking-itself-too-seriously camp. The basic Highlander-meets-Blade template they’ve gone for isn’t a bad jumping off point, but they don’t build anything interesting or new on that foundation. The first act is caked in exposition poorly disguised by stilted dialogue, but it’s all information that’s obvious without spoon-feeding because they’re relying on concepts used by practically every “secret world beyond our knowledge” story ever. The narrative is a pretty basic “stop the bad guy from taking over the world” scenario peppered with minor intrigue, but it falls apart not just due to predictable storytelling and plot holes you could drive a truck through, but also because the film completely lacks pay-off. The movie is actually pretty well paced, breezing through its reasonable runtime effortlessly, but that also means the third act feels incredibly rushed and underwhelming. The climax is essentially a series of story beats that could all be summed with the phrase “well, that was easy.” The film teases this giant epic battle but the final action sequence is just Vin Diesel fighting a corpse in a poorly lit cave. That’s it. Follow that up with some pathetic sequel baiting, and you’ve got one undercooked movie.
I like Vin Diesel as a person, but when he’s not playing a giant robot or a tree his range is pretty limited. It’s another standard Diesel performance with him injecting most of his own personality to compensate for the lack of one on the page; he might as well be playing Dominic Toretto in this movie for all the difference it makes. It’s not a bad or phoned-in performance, as Diesel’s natural charm does carry him through, but he doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen him do any of his other movies. Both Elijah Wood and Michael Caine feel wasted in their paper-thin roles, but at least Wood tries to inject some personality into his character with some funny asides before the plot throws him under the bus. Caine gives his typical disinterested paycheck performance (which makes his cloying narration in the first act even more dull), and for most of the movie he’s just a MacGuffin that has no payoff. The villains are incredibly weak with no dimension beyond the typical “we want to rule the world” routine, and potentially interesting avenues like the witch hunter council or other passive witches are completely glanced over. The main saving grace is Rose Leslie, who rises above the stodgy material to deliver a solid performance. She has surprisingly good chemistry with Diesel and displays hints of an interesting character history that’s never delved into, making me wonder why they didn’t just make the movie about her instead.
For what it’s worth, The Last Witch Hunter at least has enough of a budget to accomplish its outlandish concepts compared to similar movies. The production design for all the witch elements is twisted and beautifully so, but most of the movie is still set in dank urban locales and even some of those cool designs feel familiar (The Witch Queen, for example, looks like a cross between Regan from The Exorcist and The Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact). The CG work is pretty competent but nothing especially sticks out, and Steve Jablonsky’s score is effective if forgettable. However, the movie really fails to deliver on the action front. Most of the fight scenes rarely go beyond one-on-one and end far too quickly to register, which isn’t helped by impatient editing and incomprehensible camerawork. There’s no real standout action sequence, and for a movie like this you need at least one.
The Last Witch Hunter doesn’t lack effort but it lacks the energy to make it seem effortless. I appreciate its attempts to liven the mood with an occasional gag, but for a movie about an immortal bald man killing witches in modern day New York it still feels far too bland. It’s intermittently entertaining in a bored Saturday night sort of way, but there are plenty of other movies you could watch with similar premises that would be far more satisfying, and you don’t have to shell out money at the cinema to experience them.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/10