Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel can’t catch a break. When he’s not playing the grumbling, family obsessed Dom Toretto in the cash cow Fast and Furious films he stars in nothing but critically panned flops (except in the case of The Pacifier… WTF?!). When the previews for his latest non-Furious project, The Last Witch Hunter, began making the rounds I could tell instantly that this would be yet another in his long line of epic bombs. A horror fantasy action film where Diesel plays an immortal witch slayer that’s partly based on a character he rolled up in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign? Yeah, that’s going to be a tough sell since audiences apparently just want to see him racing cars.

It did bomb. It’s opening weekend it only made a paltry $11m. It cost an estimated $90m. Most of it probably going to Diesel. Yikes.
Personally I’m right there with that majority audience. Outside of the Fast and Furious franchise and the Riddick films (well, maybe not the third one) I usually stay away from Vin Diesel’s endeavors. For instance, I will definitely NOT be seeing the forthcoming xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Nope. But strangely enough I found The Last Witch Hunter to be a goofily enjoyable time at the movies that serves as the start of a franchise (that will never get a sequel) and also a loose remake of the original Highlander.

Kaulder (Vin Diesel), a hundreds year old witch hunter, must uncover the mystery surrounding the murder of his assistant (Michael Caine) before a rogue dark magic user (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) can resurrect his Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) so she can murder the world. 
Yes, the plot is as cliché as they come. There’s nothing original about it’s twists, developments or execution. But what worked for me was the world building that filled in all the holes surrounding the uninteresting plot threads and dumb character moments. Creatively realized special effects are used to sell the magic (loved that glass shield bit), the rules established for the witching world are fun and novel and everyone involved seems to be having a hell of a good time. Michael Caine included. I feel that this flick falls into the same category as Jupiter Ascending in that it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of storytelling, but when it comes to setting up an awesome environment in which to play there is none finer.

Vin Diesel isn’t much of an actor. He’s more of a presence in his films. And an imposing one at that. Here he comes off a little bit different in that his character of Kaulder has a wicked sense of humor and actually smiles quite a bit when compared to his other roles. He shows that he does actually have a fun charisma outside of Dom Toretto. The rest of the cast is just in orbit of Diesel however, with only Rose Leslie coming close to being on equal character footing. She’s fun to watch, has a sexy Scottish accent and looks like she could be Emma Stone’s twin. I enjoyed her character quite a bit as she was never really a damsel in distress and took matters into her own hands quite often. Michael Caine is Michael Caine. Not that that’s a bad thing. I guess my biggest issue is with Elijah Wood as Kaulder’s new handler, Dolan 37th. He doesn’t have much to do and disappears for a good portion of the film for no apparent reason. It’s a waste of talent as Wood is a fantastic actor and hasn’t received many major screen roles since the Lord of the Rings films. It’s a shame really.
Director Breck Eisner (Sahara, The Crazies) shows a deft hand at getting the spectacle on screen in a cool way, but really should have had his cinematographer light the nighttime scenes more and pull the camera back for the fights. There are times where the action is hard to see and is a mite confusing. Regardless, I liked what I saw and Eisner manages to get his cast to light up the screen and give their all. Like I said, I thought Michael Caine would just look disinterested for the whole film, but it’s the exact opposite. I also would have liked for Eisner to allow the film to breathe a little bit more. It rushes through events so quickly that I felt some of the finer moments were probably left on the cutting room floor.

The make-up and art direction are tops! There are some strikingly designed shots here. Loved the look of the Witch Queen as well as her tree lair. Even the costumes, well... the ones worn by everyone other than Diesel, are cool looking and pretty rad. I did like his armor in the past though.
But it’s not always a block party up in here. The plot has a few leaps in logic that made me cock my head in confusion. Like where did the villain get that “magical item” he’s been after? It kind of comes out of nowhere. And why did he randomly need a sacrifice? Explanations are not in abundance when it comes to certain plot holes.

My biggest gripe is something I brought up in my review of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, and that is the issue of glossing over a character’s injuries in order to keep the film pushing forward. There is a scene where Kaulder is injured in a specific way that it would be impossible for him to continue on with his mission. We even see him sitting in his apartment after being hurt and he is bleeding profusely from his wound and has many deep lacerations on his face. A mere three seconds later (no exaggeration) he is completely healed and is ready to take on his enemies with renewed vigor. WTF?! That always bugs the everloving shit out of me! Did the director/editor think we wouldn’t notice or would forget what had just taken place a couple of scenes beforehand? I have to call bullshit.
And I also have to say that Steve Jablonsky’s score was absolute trash. It’s generic in every respect and did nothing to get me fired up or emotionally connected to anything on screen. I love his scores to the Transformers films, Ender’s Game and The Island. Shit, I even liked some tracks from his A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot score. I’d venture to say that it’s one of his worst.

Regardless, I found The Last Witch Hunter to be a decently enjoyable film that is being shat on for no good reason. Sure it has its faults. Some major ones even. But to me that’s all part of its charm. It’s not a great movie. I’d struggle to even call it a good movie. But it is an entertaining one. And all I ever want is to be entertained by a film.

3 out of 5

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