Release Date: October 23, 2015
Director: Breck Eisner
Writer: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Rena Owen, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine, Joseph Gilgun, Isaach De Bankole, Michael Halsey, Sloane Coombs, Lotte Verbeek, Dawn Olivieri, Inbar Lavi, Armani Jackson, Aimee Carrero, Bex Taylor-Klaus, David Whalen, Jack Erdie, Toussaint Raphael Abessolo, Laura C. Smiley
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 106 minutes
Production Company: Aperture Entertainment, Atmosphere Entertainment MM, NeoReel, Summit Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Budget: $90,000,000 (estimated)
For a while, I began to think mixing fantasy and adventure in films would make it a laughable mess. Although, these genres were once held in high regard, they have started slipping out the boundary of what was once considered entertaining. The Seventh Son, Jupiter Ascending, Fantastic Four and Pan are just a few movies on this list, and these are all from 2015 alone. If you look back a little further you’ll notice a trend of repeated cash grabs, disguising themselves as nostalgic rich adaptations. So why would I think anything different about The Last Witch Hunter? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but it wasn’t anything to brag about. And yet, these films’ cast and intriguing trailers did their job at piquing my interest. Surprisingly, the tone of this film is mature; the story is great, filled with a number of twists and turns, but all of this was a waste, due to the absence of one key element.
Within the first frame, I didn’t know what to anticipate. Seeing Vin Diesel in ancient attire hunting witches was an interesting pill to swallow. It didn’t take long, but he soaked up the roll embracing it head on. I couldn’t think of a better name for his character, but Kaulder was spot-on. He had a humbleness about him that had fascinated me. He enjoyed the best things life had to offer, but also knew that he was something missing. Considering his circumstances over the past few hundred years, I completely understood his mental state and what drove him to get through each day. What interested me even more than Diesel was Michael Caine. There’s just something about him that calms the nerves and settles the soul. His voice alone as Dolan 36th was enough to balance the cast. I thought he and Diesel were a great team in this new age tale of witchery.
What came as a surprise was the story that was put together. It was sound, complete, and also almost perfectly crafted. The stereotype of witches— the green skinned and pointed hat persona—was turned upside down. It was a clever nod to the past—giving the audience something new, while redefining what we’ve come to know. As other forms of art have suggested—just because you’re a witch doesn’t mean you’re evil—this film eloquently addresses this point. This land of magic isn’t any cheap hocus pocus. The world is guided by an entire universe of rules, having stakes with lasting repercussions. One has to be knowledgeable about their craft, as they range from witches, witch hunters, dreamers, warlocks, and more. I was intrigued to learn more about such people as it contained a long lineage of followers which demands your respect for its vast creativity. This was the highlight of the film, and the obvious point where most attention was focused.
As great as the story was, its delivery was its downfall. Even from the beginning, while the movie seeks your interest towards a new world of mysticism, the dark and gloomy nature fogs your headspace. I don’t mean a dark and gloomy tone that serves as a positive game changer a la The Dark Knight; I mean dark and gloomy like I can’t see what the hell is going on. It was a frustrating disgrace, and that’s me putting it lightly. I was on board, ready to go on this adventure of witch hunting, but when the hunting began, I was lost attempting to follow the action. The director had no idea where to focus the camera or how far to zoom in or out. This happened repeatedly from the very beginning to the last action bit. It’s difficult to even say the word action, because there was barely any at all. That was the main problem. Decent characters with a great story, containing a serviceable plot, but it’s a failed attempt to bring them all together. The writers just didn’t know how to conclude an already great scene. What made it worse was the lack of magic in the final act. Instead of clever potions, mystical weapons or gracious enchantments, the final battle involved a barrage of shotguns and pistols. That’s definitely not the best way to cater to this genre, and a wasted opportunity at a visual masterpiece.
It’s unfortunate the way things turned out with the Last Witch Hunter. It’s nothing special; but Vin Diesel was able to bring something new to a role I haven’t seen him do before. It was refreshing and I was on his side until the very end. The amount of potential this feature has is longer than the time the lengthy war between humans and witches has taken place. The story was the best part though, but lacked a worthy conductor to make it leap off the page. Director Breck Eisner (The Crazies) hasn’t been around that long, but I won’t dismiss him now. However, with his first attempt at an action-level adventure, he failed miserably, with the rest of the production picking up the slack. This just doesn’t happen often where the action is lacking, but everything else is in place. Maybe at his next go at a fantasy he will get it right, because by now I’m nearly ready to give up.