The Last Witch Hunter review
The good sort of kitsch
Perpetual protagonist Vin Diesel (Furious 7, Riddick) received the butt of a few “South Park” jokes earlier this week for his social media post in relation to body-shaming, but the popular Comedy Central show shouldn’t affect the box office outcome of the international star’s latest film. His fourth and latest attempt at a blockbuster franchise, The Last Witch Hunter, already had a sequel in early stages of development before the first serial debuted this weekend. Like many of the popular actor’s established franchises (his brand name if you will), his newest starring effort aims to purely entertain audiences and doesn’t introduce anything new or groundbreaking for the cinematic experience. You know what you’re getting into, and it isn’t awards bait unless the special effects and sound editing get considered. Simply put, at this stage of the actor’s career, a ticket-buyer should expect an element of camp and kitsch in a Vin Diesel project. If a viewer looks to kill 100 minutes watching a post-modern pop culture pastiche reminiscent of familiar franchises like “Game of Thrones” and “The Strain” or literary/ cinematic characters like Gandalf, Harry Potter, and even James Bond,attending Diesel’s latest film isn’t the worst decision.
Breck Eisner (The Crazies, Sahara) adds an artistic touch to a film with laughable writing. He lends his experience from the surprisingly creepy Crazies remake to add an element of horror to the CGI-packed adventure. The director uses long, silent, suspenseful takes to build tension as opposed to relying on a crescendo in the score, almost overcoming hilariously laughable lines such as: “I curse you with life!” or “I got the F.B.I.’s database online.” More than a little bit of fantasy exists in The Last Witch Hunter, and Eisner creates a uniqueness that sets his film apart from other action-fantasy narratives with the help of his charismatic star.
Diesel leads the film as “Kaulder,” an immortal, cursed warrior led by a secret order, the Axe and Cross, in the Catholic Church regulating witches and wizards. Kaulder specializes in getting rid of traditionally “bad” witches, who follow and try to return the reign of the evil queen witch who cursed the warrior many centuries ago to walk the Earth forever. If this sounds even a little bit like any Harry Potter movie or book, the concept of a horcrux-esque plot device comes into play, as well. After defeating the villainous witch hundreds of years ago during the opening sequence, it’s clear in the present day to Kaulder and his order that he didn’t completely finish the job all those centuries ago. Unlike the tendencies of several action stars, Diesel commits to his performance and never phones it in on screen. While it’s difficult to take everything in this film seriously, a determined lead performance from the likable actor complements Eisner’s effective camera.
The supporting performers lend more than a measure of credibility to The Last Witch Hunter. Two-time Oscar-winner Michael Caine (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Interstellar) and Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “Wilfred”) co-star as “Dolans”—priests working closely with Kaulder on his missions. Caine begins the motion picture as Kaulder’s Dolan, however, complicated circumstances force Wood to briefly assume the mantle in Caine’s absence. Rose Leslie (“Game of Thrones,” “Downton Abbey”) plays “Chloe,” a witch who owns a bar that caters to her own kind. Chloe, like Kaulder and his Dolan, would prefer the queen witch’s reign never return and reluctantly agrees to join the protagonist on his quest, providing her magical abilities. Nobody expects to win a prestigious award for acting in this film, but solid performances from well-established thespians always helps in adding to the illusion of fiction.
Despite hilariously bad dialogue and a predictable plot combining several avenues of the pop culture spectrum, The Last Witch Hunter never fails to entertain its target audience. Director Eisner avoids thriller clichés and organically builds tension, standing a cut above other big-budget filmmakers. Vin Diesel comes through for his fans with a dedicated performance as a centuries-old combatant against the forces of evil. With a confirmed sequel looking less and less likely due to the film flopping on Friday, perhaps the star should quit stirring up controversy with comments about his body and focus on making a movie that audiences will pay to see. The future of this franchise, like so many other studio attempts, rests in the international box office.