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Review: The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

Directed by: Breck Eisner  

Premise: An immortal witch hunter (Vin Diesel) who has spent centuries enforcing peace between human beings and witches uncovers a plot to resurrect an ancient witch queen.

What Works: Movies about evil witches tend to have a misogynistic streak. The Last Witch Hunter does not fall into that trap and the movie’s conception of witches and witchcraft allows for some nuance so that the movie doesn’t come down to a male witch hunter beating and killing sorceresses. The movie also has a handful of striking images. The makeup on the evil Witch Queen in particular is quite good and there are a few surreal images that are effectively spooky. The title character of The Last Witch Hunter is assisted by a sorceress and priest played by Rose Leslie and Elijah Wood. Although they aren’t given great material both Leslie and Wood are able to inject some humor and humanity into their parts and be a bit more than sidekicks.

What Doesn’t: In many respects The Last Witch Hunter is similar to 1998’s Blade but that movie was an example of this kind of story done well whereas The Last Witch Hunter tells almost the exact same story and does it terribly. This is one of those fantasy titles in which the filmmakers string together a bunch of clichés but don’t bother to assimilate them in a way that makes sense. The immortal hero is a mainstay of these kinds of films; The Last Witch Hunter opens with a prologue sequence in which Vin Diesel’s character defeats the Witch Queen and in her dying breath she curses the witch hunter with immortality. This doesn’t turn out to be much of a curse. As an immortal and an indestructible warrior he’s able to stick around throughout the centuries and foil the Witch Queen’s long term plans. That’s telling of the consistency of the rest of this movie. Fantasy stories that use magic need to have some ground rules or internal logic. There isn’t much of that in this film. In The Last Witch Hunter everybody can do anything or at least whatever the script requires them to do to get to the next action sequence. The organization of the fantasy world isn’t coherent. Again like Blade, the witches have a complicated subculture but how these social circles relate to each other is unclear and the main characters bounce from one group to another without any logical motivation. The moviemakers aren’t compelled to explain everything but this is supposed to be a mystery and in a good detective story one clue leads to another. The Last Witch Hunter has a few twists but they are stupid and whole movie lacks a sense of purpose. Supposedly the fate of humanity is in the balance but the stakes are never concrete. In another parallel with Blade, the film is about villains assembling artifacts to resurrect an ancient evil deity that will invert the social order, in this case placing witches on top. But where Blade established its villainous characters and logically led to its climax, The Last Witch Hunter is a series of disconnected action sequences interspersed between interrogation sequences that don’t reveal anything. The villain of The Last Witch Hunter is a warlock played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and he rarely comes into conflict with anyone and he’s not characterized in any meaningful way. Again echoing Blade, The Last Witch Hunter is intended to be an action picture with horror movie components. That may be its most critical failure. The action sequences are not well done and the movie is frequently boring. A lot of the set pieces are a flurry of images that are staged and edited so sloppily that the action is impossible to follow. Matters aren’t helped by Vin Diesel’s one note performance. His character is not interesting. He’s supposed to be mourning the loss of his family but that’s never evident in the character.  He has no vulnerability and Diesel’s monotone delivery is a bore to watch.

Bottom Line: The Last Witch Hunter is clearly an attempt to set up a new fantasy franchise but for that to work it must have a compelling central character and a rich story world. This film has neither.

Episode: #568 (November 8, 2015)