Director: Breck Eisner
Writer: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Producer: Mark Canton, Vin Diesel, Bernie Goldmann
Stars: Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine, Joseph Gilgun, Isaach De Bankole
A legendary witch hunter confronts the powerful creature that cursed him with immortality 800 years earlier.
On its own, “unremarkable” is an unflattering adjective. Add the word “inoffensively” in front, and it isn’t so bad.
Those two sentences initially intended to introduce an explanation that describing “The Last Witch Hunter” as inoffensively unremarkable is not meant insultingly, even if it qualifies as a backhanded compliment. But noticing “it isn’t so bad” while reading back the above, I realize that phrase fits just as well for succinctly summarizing the film.
Vin Diesel is Kaulder, a scowling, growling Viking of some sort, maybe. According to the 800-year-old age Kaulder is when the story switches to present day New York, that sets the opening flashback scene somewhere around the 13th century. That also makes Kaulder at least 200 years too late for the Viking Age, so who knows what is supposed to be happening here. Let’s not let historical facts get in the way of fantasy fiction.
With a deadly plague cursing their land, Kaulder and his sword-wielding band of chainmail and fur-clad warriors crunch across snowy tundra to the fire-lit cave of the Witch Queen. Blood is shed. Lives are lost. Just as all seems lost, Kaulder’s blade meets the wicked woman’s belly. Hissing her death gasp, the Witch Queen casts one last spell by cursing Kaulder with eternal life as the steep price for slaying her.
From that single exchange springs a secret cabal dedicated to maintaining global peace among witches. A truce keeps magic practitioners safe provided they never use dark arts against humans. Now shorn of his wig and fake chin whiskers, Kaulder spends centuries enforcing that law for the council as the last of the witch hunters. Meanwhile, a long line of mortal priests assuming the name Dolan serves as his handler and historian.
On the eve of Father Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine) passing his torch to Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood), tragedy strikes. Witches are turning up dead, and they aren’t the only ones. With he and the Dolans also marked as targets, Kaulder makes an uneasy alliance with a modern witch (Rose Leslie) who could be the key to recovering a crucial memory and solving this murderous mystery.
“The Last Witch Hunter” is in that category of mediocre movies failing to inspire strong opinions one way or another. The kind where you simply say, “it was okay” and nothing more in response to a coworker’s question about its quality after identifying what you fell asleep to over the weekend.
Completely coincidentally, the movie coming to mind while watching “The Last Witch Hunter” was “Dracula Untold” (review here). Coming as little surprise then was a post-screening discovery that writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are responsible for both scripts (with Cory Goodman penning the final draft for “The Last Witch Hunter”).
Immortal heroes wielding steel against the supernatural in a bygone age. Random battles against random creatures and swirling swarms of CGI beasties requiring nine minutes of end credits to cite all the VFX artists involved. Stereotypes and archetypes rolling through rote plotting of predictable twists in a straightforward story.
These are the distinguished war wounds of interchangeableaction/adventure style made popular by “The Mummy” and “The Scorpion King.” It’s a proven formula for pat popcorn fare and therefore preferred by studio suits playing it safe with standard multiplex fodder optimal for an October release. That doesn’t make the movie bad. It merely makes it run-of-the-mill.
Kaulder isn’t jetting to the top of any fan’s list of Vin Diesel’s most compelling characters. Ditto the supporting players, for that matter. This is one of those wooden personality scripts painfully forcing comic relief through dry lines such as, “you look like a terrible band from the 80s” upon seeing an elderly witch council assembly and, “she’s a cat person” as Rose Leslie’s reply to Vin Diesel’s raised eyebrow about a meowing ringtone. In other words, “The Last Witch Hunter” goes through the motions of typically trite entertainment, meaning you can watch it with one eye and one ear open and not miss anything.
With a morass of milquetoast characterizations on tap, the film’s strategy for remaining mildly engaging is leaning on inherent likability in its cast. That plan more or less works as well as it can. Anyone interested in the film is probably already interested in Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, or at least two of the four. Performances are pretty much what anyone expects to see of the quartet, i.e. Michael Caine as a concerned father figure, a lot of Elijah Wood acting nervously surprised, Rose Leslie being charmingly sassy, and Vin Diesel being Vin Diesel.
As before, there is nothing necessarily insulting about “The Last Witch Hunter” aiming for low standards and nailing them. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about the movie, either. The second time you see it will be while switching channels out of boredom one lazy afternoon. Even after realizing you watched it once before, you’ll still have trouble recalling the current scene or remembering what happens next.
Review Score: 55