Film review: THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, from ‘Built For Speed’

Put the words ‘Witch Hunter’ in a film title and you’re almost guaranteed a turkey. The optimistically titled The Last Witch Hunter – which stars Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood and Rose Leslie – isn’t quite as awful as the 2013 abomination Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters but it’s still a ridiculous, incoherent load of codswallop.

In an in ill-advised piece of casting Vin Diesel plays Kaulder, a hirsute warrior who leads a band of medieval assassins in a quest to rid the world of witches. In this film witches are demonic creatures with nefarious magical powers as opposed to women simply being labelled as minions of the devil by a misogynist society. During an encounter with the powerful and malevolent Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), Kaulder is cursed to live forever and to see everyone he loves die. Having lived for centuries, Kaulder of course winds up in present-day New York City where he battles the witches who still live among us.  When his best friend and handler, the Catholic priest Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine) is struck down by a curse, Kaulder realises that the Witch Queen is still alive and that he must destroy her before her witch hordes obliterate humanity. Despite being the archetypal taciturn loner, Kaulder reluctantly accepts the help of benevolent witch (and dream walker?) Chloe (Rose Leslie) and Caine’s young replacement Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood).

The Last Witch hunter is based on a graphic novel series and several instalments have been squashed into one story for this film. Consequently, the narrative is cluttered, confusing and completely unengaging. The story lacks a rich and involving mythology and desperately needed some of the historical and archaeological intrigue of movies like National Treasure and The Indiana Jones trilogy. Also, unlike those films, The Last Witch Hunter never gathers momentum as it stumbles from one messy action set piece to another.   Worse still, these action scenes are almost unwatchable with their appalling CGI – which includes the tediously familiar sinewy, loping monster and people turning to ash when they’re killed – and atrociously filmed fight scenes where the camera flails about so much it’s impossible to tell what’s happening.

The film also fails to engage on a personal level as none of the characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic. Diesel’s Kaulder is exactly like Dominic Toretto from The Fast and the Furious films; an unintentionally comical tough man who grumbles in a voice so deep it threatens the Earth’s geological integrity. There’s an element of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to his character but unfortunately the film as a whole has none of the wit or pop-cultural savvy of Buffy. The film attempts to slot Michael Caine into the sort of wise, compassionate mentor role he played in the Chris Nolan Batman films but he has little chance to do anything here as he spends most of the film in a coma. Similarly, Elijah Wood is given such a thinly drawn role he makes no impact. Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) who also provides a tentative romantic interest for Kaulder, is an amiable screen presence but she, like the other actors just isn’t given the material to create a memorable character.

The final scenes of this film seem to be setting up a sequel but its doubtful audiences will embrace this noisy, confusing and uninspired film to the extent that studios will contemplate inflicting another one on us.

Nick’s rating: *1/2.

Genre: Action/ fantasy/ horror.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Breck Eisner.

Release date: 29th October 2015.

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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