Any film that falls into the ilk of Season of the Witch with Nicolas Cage is immediately on my watch list. Yes, that is basically shouting from the rooftops that I’m either an idiot, or simply out of my mind. I can’t even really say that some movies are so bad they need to be witnessed, because, wow, that sure isn’t true. The opposite should be the norm, no doubt. But sometimes these films offer a kind of silly Dungeons & Dragons escapism that allows a little bit of forgiveness. And sometimes not.
Vin Diesel, and his gravelly voice, stars as Kaulder, a witch hunter that must thwart the Witch Queen in order to save the world from her nefarious plan to pretty much kill every human on Earth. She’s pretty pissed, obviously. Hey, she’s been wrongly judged by humans forever. Wiccans are hardly ever correctly portrayed in film. But then, based on her behavior here, it’s no wonder people think they’re evil, demon-worshiping killers. But they do make a point in the film to mention that not all witches are evil. So that’s good.
The Last Witch Hunter opens with Kaulder, complete with beard, and his pack of witch hunters back in the Dark Ages as they enter a giant tree that is the Witch Queens lair. This part of the film is actually kind of cool, as they are attacked by crazy evil witches that cast all sorts of cool spells upon the men one by one. These men have come to avenge the deaths of those killed by the Black Plague, which the witches are responsible for setting upon humanity. See? More of that bad rap stuff about witches.
Kaulder gets the upper hand and plunges his sword through the Witch Queen, but upon her last breath, she places a curse of immortality upon him. May he live forever in misery and loneliness, yada yada. So, fast forward 800 years to present day New York – well, only the skyline shots of New York, all the on the ground stuff was shot in Pittsburgh. It was pretty obvious even without reading it in the credits. Kaulder has been hunting witches for this council of humans and witches since they made an uneasy truce to let witches stick around as long as they play nice with us mortals.
Kaulder is assisted by a Dolan. It’s not clear if that’s the guys name, or if it’s what they call the role of this person, but here it’s a kind of priest that records all of the missions of the Witch Hunter and is his handler, absolver, etc. And he’s played by Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. Here he’s called the 36th Dolan. But he’s retiring and number 37 is Elijiah Wood. Neither of them have a lot of screen time, I assume because they asked for more money than the budget called for.
Through one of the more unexpected interesting twists in the plot, guess who finds a way to come back? I don’t have to tell you, do I? I hope not, but I’ll tell you she’s played by a nearly unrecognizable Julie Engelbracht. Ok, you won’t recognize her anyway unless you watch a lot of French TV and film. Now, along the way, Kaulder crosses paths with Chloe, (Rose Leslie – the red-headed Ygritte from S2 of Game of Thrones), who runs a kind of speak easy for witch folk. Thankfully all they do relationship-wise is allude to its’ possibility. Not even a kiss. Whew! Bullet dodged!
Believe it or not, The Last Witch Hunter builds a world that might actually be interesting providing anyone went to the trouble to offer any compelling dramatic incentive. It’s one of those films that if you want to know something, just wait a sec and some character will surely tell you point blank instead of having the narrative do it naturally or showing us with more sublty or nuance. This is the kind of film that falls into the genre of most of the Underworld series. It’s got some flash, some semblance of interesting mythology, but not enough depth to makes us really care about everything. It’s too bad, because it seems like there might be a decent film in here somewhere. But, oh well.
I suppose that should be no surprise, seeing as this is written by Cory Goodman, who wrote Priest starring Paul Bettany. Not an awful film, but not great either. He was assisted by writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, both of whom co-wrote the masterpiece that was Dracula Untold. So, yeah, there seems to be a pattern here. Directed by Breck Eisner, who directed The Crazies, (which I kind of liked), and Sahara, The Last Witch Hunter makes a trio of films that when combined, still doesn’t equate to bragging rights. Or maybe it just represents a poor choice of scripts, or his bad luck of being the guy studios go to for these type of movies.
There are quite a few digital effects in play here, and only one was truly great. Most of them are unremarkable and one in particular is kind of baffling and REALLY should have been practical. C’mon, who uses CG to show a person in old-age make-up? Just their face. You couldn’t go prosthetics? The CG looks REALLY video-gamey. Heh- “gamey”. You know, like a dead body? Ok, maybe that’s only funny to me?
The Last Witch Hunter is a lot like watching someone else play a video game without having any emotional vested interest. One big character twist you know is coming, some middle-of-the-road CG, and the only cool antagonist, named Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson), isn’t even the primary threat. Any good things about this film are out-weighed. Big D & D/Hobbit fans can wait for this on cable/streaming, etc. The rest of you might want to pass. Only a couple kittenhands for Vin here. Just go back and watch some of those Fast And Furious movies instead.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking at least this wasn’t as bad as Season of the Witch with Nic Cage. That’s something, anyway.