Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Olafur Darri Olafsson
Plot: Kaulder (Diesel) is a witch hunter, cursed with eternal life, punishing witches who use their powers for evil.
The action starts in the Middle Ages, Vin Diesel’s silent hero, Kaulder, a part of a team of witch hunters, tracking down a malicious queen, who released the Black Plague upon the world. There is a desperate struggle, which sees Kaulder stab the Queen through the heart. In her dying breaths, she curses Kaulder with the ability to never die, never releasing him from the misery of losing his wife and child. The film then fast-forwards to modern day. Kaulder is a part of an organisation of priests that keep track of the more malicious witches (a nice touch to the film is that the organisation already recognises that not all witches are bad, neatly side-stepping the same ‘prejudice/racism’ debate every film of this genre seems intent on having), the church fine-tuning their methods to revolve around Kaulder, seeing as his knowledge, expertise and immortality make him the perfect weapon to bring the fight to the witches. As an elderly Dolan (the rank of the priest primarily tasked with being Kaulder’s handler), hands down the torch to a younger apprentice, tragedy strikes. An old friend shows up dead and Kaulder believes something untoward caused it. Kaulder and his new Dolan chase down the clues, teaming them up with a reluctant witch, played by the always welcome Rose Leslie, who has the spells needed to help Kaulder unlock his past and defeat the evil, growing in the shadows.
Right off the bat, the alarm bells ring. Vin Diesel is a big lover of movies and whenever he has the lead role in something, it usually means he had a big part in the script-writing and producing process as well as provided his gravely tones. Diesel, inspired by a love of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the modernisation of medieval monsters genre, dives into the pre-production of The Last Witch Hunter and creates a movie he believes is exactly what the audience want to see. And while it boasts some nice ideas (Rose Leslie’s character owns a bar that deals in hexing the clientele, rather than serving them alcohol), Diesel is so married to the script that he never stops to realise that this movie is no different to several other movies of the same genre. There is hardly anything new on show here. It might be nowhere near as terrible as I, Frankenstein, but it near comes close to hitting the entertainment factor of Underworld. The entire movie never leaves cruise control, the story sticking to reliable thrills and doing the bare minimum in terms of story-telling. The plot is pretty routine, an old friend being threatened, an old enemy putting the world at stake and the trio of heroes forming an unlikely alliance. I have suffered films like this before, even enjoying the simplistic set-up, but The Last Witch Hunter has no set pieces that make the bare story feel forgivable. It hurts that Kaulder is immortal and invincible, most of the enemies in the film coming across as helpless rather than a threat. The witches make for confusing villains too, their powers not explained properly. Much of the battles consist of Kaulder charging in blindly, getting trapped in some sort of vision or hex, with an over-abundance of CGI wading in, messing the whole thing up. It makes for some good visuals – Rose Leslie is attacked in her flat in the one moderately creepy sequence in the whole ‘horror’ – but the question is always being demanded: why haven’t the bad guys won by now if they possess this level of abilities? As a result, the movie drifts from rote explanation to shoddy plot point, with lazy punch-ups to tide the audience over. It isn’t the most stimulating of experiences.
Even the cast are struggling with the thin material. It is hard to criticise Vin Diesel too much, because Kaulder is essentially a cross between his other roles. By now, he is well suited to the hero role, although nothing he does surprises you, like a Seagal movie you haven’t heard of fished out of a bargain bucket somewhere. Michael Caine, the heavyweight of the cast, is the most painful to watch stuck here. His character is diluted, by the fact he is asked to play Alfred Pennyworth once again, beat for beat. The tired mentor trying to urge his broody hero to slow down and appreciate life is not necessarily bad, but embarrassingly identical to the Dark Knight trilogy. Elijah Wood is also a good actor, but held back by a ropey supporting part. He deserves better. Even Rose Leslie, who shines with more charisma than the rest of the cast put together, is always haunted by the shadow of her stronger female roles, namely the ones in television like Luther or Game of Thrones. The problem with being introduced with such an iconic role like Ygritte is that when you do a middling movie like this, each flaw is more noticeable. Every badly-written line or corny romance moment feels like a personal attack against the actress, trying to pull her back to the roles Game of Thrones neatly took her away from. At the very least, the four of them keep The Last Witch Hunter vaguely watchable. It would just be nice if they had some original ideas to play with.
Final Verdict: While predictable and routine, The Last Witch Hunter isn’t painfully awful – just barren of ideas we haven’t seen in cinema before.