Double, double toil and trouble; Breck Eisner’s The Last Witch Hunter takes a mildly interesting premise and twists it into one of the year’s worst films.
Vin Diesel and director Breck Eisner’s hopes of melding myth with modernity to make something magical are woefully misplaced with this movie; the film toys with one or two engaging hooks, but the execution is subpar and undercuts any attempt at crafting an appealing fantasy realm for the characters to explore.
Diesel plays Kaulder, an immortal warrior who has spent the last 800 years travelling the globe and bringing nasty witches to justice; aided by two priests (Michael Caine and Elijah Wood) who’re part of a secret order, Kaulder must now join forces with a witch called Chloe (played by Game of Thrones alumni Rose Leslie) if he is to find solace, and prevent an ancient foe from returning to power.
The film borrows a lot of elements from other series’ in an attempt to feel instantly familiar; Kaulder is given this James Bond-like persona as he races around the globe, beds air hostesses, wields an array of gadgets and even drives a slick Aston Martin. The fatal flaw here is that Diesel brings less charisma to the role than a baked potato, and his mumbled performance is accompanied by some misplaced belief in ‘franchise potential’ that borders on delusion. The hammy dialogue and contrived plot about an ancient Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) returning from the dead compounds the problem, whilst a final scene that hints at further adventures to come will stifle any residual interest the audience have clung onto.
Despite not being based on an existing property, originality isn’t something that screenwriters Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are overly familiar with; together with Eisner, they’ve successfully cooked up a film sponges from other, more compelling work to create a wonky patchwork quilt of borrowed motifs and tropes; the snowy opening evokes Game of Thrones, the lone monster hunter idea is torn from Van Helsing or Underworld and the hokey ‘mythical beings inhabiting our world’ narrative recalls films like Men in Black or Blade.
However, unlike these mildly enjoyable counterparts, The Last Witch Hunter treats its own world-building with about as much care as a hyperactive 5-year-old with an excess of Lego. After the brief medieval prologue we’re introduced to a modern day New York that is teeming with witches, magic and spell books, but offered very little connective tissue that informs us of the wider world. How did society develop to this point? We’re introduced to a secret order that keeps magical folk in check, but other than standing around a big table being sulky, what do they actually do? And more importantly, do the audience actually care? The film brushes these questions aside in favour of more important matters – like setting up the next choppy action scene.
Eisner treats his material with care and a steady hand while his actors are actually conversing, but as soon as he gets a slight whiff of an action sequence, all bets are off. All of a sudden we’re plunged head first into rushed, incomprehensible edits and messy shaky-cam designed to conceal the weak VFX and stunt actors. The action isn’t just drab and ugly, it’s hard to follow and confusing.
The acting talent isn’t given a lot to work with either; Leslie and Wood are afforded some weak backstory that would struggle to fill out the length of single Tweet and even then, it makes little difference to their actual character.
The Verdict: 3/10
Trashy and woefully-executed on almost every level, I can’t recommend The Last Witch Hunter to anyone other than insomniacs looking for a good snooze. I fully expect to find this one glued to the bottom of the bargain bin sooner than you can say Expelliarmus.
This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.
The Last Witch Hunter is in cinemas across Australia now.