The Last Witch Hunter (2015) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, Olatur Darri Olafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Joseph Gilgun, Isaach De Bankole
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenplay: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Review published October 23, 2015
Vin Diesel (Furious 7, Guardians of the Galaxy) stars as Kaulder, a witch-hunter who, over eight centuries ago, was 'cursed' by a defeated Black Plague-inducing Witch Queen (Engelbrecht, Before the Fall) with never being able to die, living an immortal life of loneliness and angst because he'll never see his deceased wife and child in the afterlife. Fast-forward to today, and now Kaulder is the main soldier in an underground religious order based in New York known as the Axe and Cross, set upon rounding up all of the remaining witches and imprisoning them for good. Kaulder is currently assisted by the 36th in a line of priest assistants known as a Dolan in his efforts to roust up the magic users, but encounters an unusually crafty and powerful Warlock named Belial, who ends up killing the Dolan (Caine, Kingsman: The Secret Service) in an effort to restore the witches back to prominence. With the 37th Dolan (Wood, Grand Piano) assigned to him, Kaulder soon connects with a more benign 'Dreamwalker' witch named Chloe (Leslie, "Game of Thrones") to thwart Belial's plans to bring the world back to the realm of the Witch Queen's dark arts again.
The Last Witch Hunter is Vin Diesel's latest attempt to jumpstart another franchise for him to be able to rely on when the Fast & Furious franchise begins to run out of its course. With the sci-fi based "Riddick" series met mostly with shrugs, Diesel tries to branch out into the action-fantasy arena, reportedly based on a character he created when playing Dungeons & Dragons (no joke), but just doesn't seem to generate the same kind of excitement when he isn't behind the wheel of a souped-up muscle car. Unfortunately, we've already seen a franchise like this come and go in the vampire-based Blade series, which this movie seems to pattern itself after, as well as large elements of the Highlander and Hellboy series. It's not a comparison that goes in its favor, as those films had far better fight scenes than the poorly lit, quick-cut, max-zoom ones depicted here. While some of the CGI designs are impressive, if oversaturating the screen at times, they aren't enough to keep The Last Witch Hunter from being one of the uglier movies of the modern computer-generated blockbuster era.
Directed by Breck Eisner (Sahara, The Crazies), The Last Witch Hunter is a flaccid, risk-averse attempt at fantasy thrills, partially deflated by the establishment of the invulnerability of its protagonist, who not only will never die, but is also given the ability to instantly heal from any and all wounds inflicted upon him, and to never get old -- amazing that this is considered a curse, when it is what everyone mortal wishes for. This gives Diesel plenty of time for swagger, but even his character mentions how bored he is in living the life of a witch hunter. If his life's work brings him no passion or interest, what does that leave us with in terms of his journey that makes him worth following?
Eisner, working from an anemic, uninspired script that is somehow credited to three screenwriters, doesn't have a compelling story or characters to work with, forced to rely on Diesel's screen presence and a ton of special effects shots to maintain some sort of viewer interest in the proceedings. Most of the secondary characters in the movie are merely there to persistently explain the plotline and permutations of this fantasy world that seems to make up its own rules as it goes along. Sleepwalker performances -- particularly by Caine, who barely seems more animated when his character is supposed to be alive than when he's dead in the film -- don't help, and with plot developments both ludicrous in concept and inept in execution, what we're left with is a dark, murky, ill-defined, and dreadfully boring movie that, unlike its titular character, manages to grow old and die early on, which makes the subsequent 75 minutes feel like an eternal curse itself.
©2015 Vince Leo