The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

fin07_lwh_1sht_throne_modern_trim
Immortal. Witch Hunter. Hip Hop Hero.

“Live Forever. Hunt Forever.”

Directed by Breck Eisner
Starring Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine

In ye olden days, a collection of fascinating beards with burly men behind them travel to a funky-looking tree and descend into its foul root system to battle the Witch Queen and end the Black Death (so I guess we’re in the mid-14th Century.) Kaulder (Diesel), a widower with nothing to live for, strikes the Queen down, but she curses him with life, to be unable to find peace in death.

Groot had really been letting himself go.
Groot had really been letting himself go.

Eight hundred years later (so, I guess this was a 13th Century black death) Kaulder is still hunting witches for the Axe and Cross, a secret society maintaining the peace between regular humans and witches. When his friend and chronicler, Dolan the 36th (Caine) is found dead on the night he retires, Kaulder is suspicious. He uncovers a murder and captures a warlock responsible, but realises that there is more to the crime than meets the eye (and that Dolan is not dead, just very cursed.)

With the aid of white-ish witch Chloe (Leslie) and Dolan’s successor (Wood), he follows a clue from Dolan and tries to delve into his own memory, to recall something from the defeat of the Queen that he has forgotten. He kills the warlock who cursed Dolan, but not before the Queen is resurrected, the Axe and Cross having preserved her heart in order to use Kaulder as an indestructible weapon, thus preventing her being finally destroyed.

It's a Goth thing.
Black clothes, white witch.

Kaulder, Chloe and Dolan the 37th descend into the witch prison to prevent the Queen unleashing another plague and to destroy her, once and for all.

What’s wrong with it?

The Last Witch Hunter is a big, dumb action movie which has just enough substance that it needed to be a little more erudite to pull it off. It offers hints of a well-developed world, but everything just races by. Given the relatively lean 105 minute run time, it feels like they could have afforded to slow down and smell the necromancy.

Kaulder’s immortality took a lot of the tension out of the fight scenes, which were on the whole pretty forgettable already. Post-Wolverine, there wasn’t a lot here that we haven’t seen before.

The surprise heel turn was a little bit too signposted by the unutterable cleanness of the character.

The misty golden flashbacks to Kaulder’s plague-murdered family were ever so Gladiator.

The opening scenes look uncannily like a particularly unwashed ranging of the Night’s Watch running across the Tree of the Three-Eyed Raven after it had gone rather to seed.

Kaulder hitting on the stewardess at the beginning is horribly awkward. Diesel is pretty charming, but it’s not that kind of charm.

What’s right with it?

Kaulder’s 13th century beard is fucking epic! Oliver Queen wishes he flashed back to having a beard this epic.

Fear! My! Beard!
Fear! My! Beard!

The film manages to reverse expectations by having Chloe reluctant to work with Kaulder, who after centuries of witch hunting is surprisingly chilled about ‘legal’ witchery.

At least witches aren’t presented as all irredeemably bad.

How bad is it really?

Kaulder has a flaming sword. A FLAMING SWORD.

OMGholyshitthatsanactualflamingswordthatssofuckingcool!
OMGholyshititsanactualflamingswordthatssofuckingcool!

Objectively assessing this film is difficult, is what I’m saying. It’s not actually very good, but he has a flaming sword and an awesome flashback beard. It’s also definitely better than Van Helsing, although I’m surprisingly hard pressed to say exactly why.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Did I mention the flaming sword?

What’s up with…?

  • This whole ‘ancient race’ thing? Is the Witch Queen not actually human? Is that why she had a spine instead of a ponytail? Are all witches part alien or something? Or are humans the real monsters all along?
  • The witch prison, the elders, the sentinel, and the fact that we’re pretty much told that witches have magic intrinsically and no-one else does, but the elders of the Axe and Cross have all this magic shit? Is it all confiscated talismans like Kaulder’s super lightsticks and weather runes? Or are the elders some sort of freaking wizards?
  • The yahoos across the aisle who thought that every use of the word ‘bitch’ was completely hilarious? Okay, not the movie’s issue, but seriously.

Ratings

Production values – The action is competent, the Witch Queen horrible and the sword flames. Sadly, nothing really pops beyond the average. Maybe I’m just jaded. 10
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is not exactly inspiring, but neither is it dire. The performances are all perfectly competent, with just the one howling clunker when Vin Diesel is asked to be all Roger Moore. 6
Plot and execution – Honestly, the film could have stood to slow down a little more sometimes, show some things instead of telling, tell some things instead of letting us guess. The point to point wasn’t bad, but we could have done with more time to appreciate the scenery. 12
Randomness – Max’s butterflies are never really explained, and the relentless pace ultimately hurts the cohesion of the film as a whole. 9
Waste of potential – It definitely felt as if the film could have been better, with slightly better pacing and a little more focus on the details. More than anything, it would have helped for the action scenes to be a little more remarkable, or else a little less focal. 11

Overall 48%

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