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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

The Last Witch Hunter is a B-Movie with a big budget.  That doesn't exactly mean that the movie looks better, or has better special effects than we would hope.  Truth be told, the effects are actually pretty mediocre.  No, where the big budget has been put to use is in getting some expensive actors, such as Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones, and Elijah Wood.  At the very least, the movie knows what it is, and even has a bit of fun at its own expense once in a while.  I think if the movie took itself even less seriously, I would have liked it more.

The plot kicks off with a prologue set over 800 years ago, with Vin Diesel playing Kaulder, who is leading a group of soldiers and peasants into the lair of the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) to destroy her.  The Queen has cursed the land with a black plague that has killed many of the soldiers' families, including Kaulder's wife and daughter, and the men are determined to enter her "Plague Tree" fortress and destroy her.  A battle ensues, but due to the scarce lighting and fast editing, we can hardly tell what's going on most of the time.  All that matters is that Kaulder manages to defeat the Witch Queen, and she curses him with immortality.  He is now fated to walk the Earth eternally, hunting down and destroying the Queen's witchy sisters.

Flash forward to the present, and Kaulder is doing just that.  Through a hasty voice over narration, we learn that there is some kind of truce between the humans and witches, but not everybody plays by the rules, and it's up to our hero to take care of the ones who don't.  His current sidekick in his fight against supernatural evil is the priest Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine), who has been aiding Kaulder for decades, and is ready for retirement.  No sooner than his replacement, Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) is introduced, then Dolan 36 is attacked and apparently killed by an intruder who broke into his apartment, looking for something.  Kaulder decides to investigate into the murder, and discovers a secret plot that revolves around bringing the Witch Queen from 800 years ago back to life.  He must prevent this from happening with the aid of his new sidekick, and a "dream walker" witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie), who has the power to enter people's minds.


The Last Witch Hunter has no aspirations other than to be a dumb and fun fantasy adventure, and at times, it comes close to achieving that goal.  Diesel and Leslie actually seem quite invested in their characters, and are at least making an effort.  The problem is, nobody else seems to be working on their level.  Michael Caine is clearly cashing a paycheck, and doesn't give more than what's required.  I guess this is forgivable, since he doesn't have a lot of screen time.  Still, it would at least be nice if it looked like he was having fun in this silly movie.  And while Elijah Wood is no strange to fantasy and monster films, he seems a bit bored here, mostly because the screenplay gives him so little to do and actually forgets about him for long periods of time.  This is the kind of movie where everybody should be getting in on the action.  If they're not, then what's the point in paying the extra money to hire them?

But what I think disappointed me the most is the approach the screenplay takes to this material.  It treats it as if we're actually supposed to care about what's going on up on the screen.  There's a lot of dialogue, much more than a movie like this actually needs, and far too many scenes of people just standing around talking.  I think even Diesel's fans will admit that dialogue is not exactly the actor's strong suit, and not the reason that people go to see his Fast and Furious movies.  There's surprisingly little action, and what is up on the screen is often shot in low lighting, or feels like it's been edited in order to achieve a PG-13 rating.  The only smart decision the filmmakers have made here is to not include gimmicky 3D.  Audiences will likely walk into this expecting a mindless good time, and while it delivers from time to time, it doesn't do it enough in order to be successful.

The Last Witch Hunter feels like the kind of movie that you would watch during the early months of January or February, when the competition is a lot leaner.  With the big holiday movies only a few weeks away, it's almost certain that this will disappear from most theaters in a matter of weeks, before it hits DVD and the SyFy Channel, which really is the proper home for a movie like this.

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