3 out of 5
Directed by: Breck Eisner
The Last Witch Hunter is a movie.
It was okay.
…But for real, I’m not sure how much else there is to say. I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of days, contemplating my angle “in,” but not discovering one. I thought I’d struck on something by questioning if the title was about the hunter of the last witch, or, indeed, about the last witch hunter (following the film’s lore it’s not quite either), but that didn’t go very far. So perhaps you can glean something about the film from this very lack of things to say.
Don’t glean something outright negative, though: The film is enjoyable. It’s well constructed, and surprisingly patient for what could have been an FX extravaganza, and actually has some interesting spins on its fantasy genre. It possibly just lacks a bit of personality, or in so purposefully trying to downplay the cool antihero shtick, it maneuvers itself into a corner where it’s hard to make a lasting impression.
Vin Diesel plays Calder, a witch-hunter, a tradition of which – along with an accompanying documentarian Dolan – has been passed down for years. …Until Calder kills the wrong witch and gets cursed with eternal life. Flash forward to present day and Calder is still doing his thing alongside current Dolan Michael Caine, their work now wrapped under the banner of an organization called The Hammer and Cross. Caine retires – passing the torch on to young Dolan Elijah Wood – and then promptly dies under bizarre circumstances, which – yeah – inevitably lead back to that wrong witch.
The movie does a good job of world-building some pretty out there concepts competently, and without overselling it via wild visuals or excess exposition. At the same time, the movie is by no means lacking in a realized style or interesting scenes, as the witches Calder is up against specialize in a sort of hypnotic state that lends itself to cool dream sequences. The character design is also very well done, seeming grounded by some unspoken “magic” rules; the main witch is particularly fearsome, with a groovy spinal column hair braid.
Diesel plays his role with some of the been-there-done-that of Keanu’s Constantine from the film of the same name (with which this movie definitely shares some sensibilities), but Witch Hunter doesn’t go the “humanity is doomed” dour route; Calder is much more content as a hero than an anti-one, and for the most part, the underground world of witches is just trying to get by in the modern world.
But despite all that – despite a final battle sequence that actually takes time to ramp up over forty or so minutes – the film just doesn’t stick very well. Again, it almost seems like the creative looked at what they had, recognized it as a template for a popcorn flick, and then tried to shoot it more like a straight film, without a lot of flash. On the plus side, that does bring gravity to what otherwise could have been very silly; on the minus side, it apparently also sucked out the calories that come along with popcorn.
It’s a movie. It’s better than it should be, but it’s still just okay.