Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Last Witch Hunter

   From the trailers for this Vin Diesel vehicle (no pun intended, I swear) it looked like a throwaway mish-mash of ill-fated efforts like Season of the Witch, The Seventh Son, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and a dash of Constantine for good measure. With the guilty pleasure exception of Constantine, all of those other movies I just mentioned range from outright bad, to pathetically forgettable. I figured Diesel's charisma might at least make The Last Witch Hunter fun enough to be harmless fun, albeit mindless as well. Well, at first I thought I had an exception to the rule here and I was really happy with the movie, but that feeling has quickly faded. It's certainly not as bad as Season of the Witch, but that doesn't mean it's any more worth watching.

  First off, The Last Witch Hunter is not a slam-bang action extravaganza. It's totally not. It might still be more or less forgettable and somewhat mindless, but it's actually a whodunit mystery with Vin's character, Kaulder, actually having to investigate a crime and track down a nasty bad guy. There's a conspiracy, a few solid plot twists, and some really intense parts. It just so happens that all of this involves witches, warlocks, and a vast underworld of magic-wielding beings. This all sets the movie in a very different tone and pace. It's not a 'quest' movie, where a bunch of sword-wielding macho men set out to slay a dragon or something. Although you might be forgiven for thinking it's exactly that- because at first that's what it seems like it's going to be. But, I'll say it again- it's not that. 

  Instead, the movie is a thoughtful mystery flick that's brought to life with clever usage of CGI special effects and a surprisingly focused eye for little details. There's lots of interesting supporting characters that add to the settings and the rich world that the filmmakers have built here. It's funny, because there's a scene early on when we see Kaulder's witch hunting arsenal- which looks like exactly what you'd expect every Vin Diesel character ever to have in their closet, but no weapons actually come out of their until the climax. I found it neat how his character had to rely on his wits and his knowledge instead of brute force and big guns. At the risk of sounding like a broken record- this all was very unexpected. 

   Alas, the movie is not without it's faults. Massive and intricate fictional worlds with extensive histories tend to have a lot of rules to follow and more often than not, writers can't keep up with it all, even if it's their own creation. The world of The Last Witch Hunter plays fast and loose with it's own established rules, leading to some unfortunate gaps in logic and minor plot holes. See, Kaulder is immortal- a parting curse from a dying witch queen.  This all happens in the prologue, back in medieval times. The next time we see Kaulder, he's flying coach in an airplane- very modern day. He's a 'weapon' for a secret society called the Ax and Sword. They're very knowledgeable about magic and all kinds of stuff. Seeing as how Kaulder's immortality is a curse, and not a blessing- you kinda wonder why he's never tried to break the curse in the 800 years he's been alive. Huh.

   You're asked to buy that he's been cool with it this whole time- despite the fact that we know that everyone he loved has been killed. So, he never once even tried to break the curse? Of course, this kind of plays a major part in the plot later on. Granted, it was an "Ohhh.." moment, but still. The writing around that reveal should've been more airtight. 800 years is a long time, and the audience doesn't even get any throwaway lines about Kaulder trying to break the curse. I can't even elaborate on why this is silly because it would spoil the twist. But, Kaulder knows a lot about curses and he should know something about his own. But... if he did, that would unravel the plot. 

  Or, the writers could've upped their game and patched up these holes. It wouldn't have been hard to do. I can only try to overlook those faults because the rest of the movie is kinda entertaining, interesting and ultimately unexpected. Vin's acting here is solid, if not occasionally hampered by uneven writing. The rest of the cast is similarly solid. Elijah Wood, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie. That's no B-grade cast! I'm well aware that I might be over-praising the flick because I went in with rock bottom expectations, but with movies like this, I always do and always come away disappointed. I wasn't this time. It's a deeply flawed movie, but it's also a well-acted and very interesting one.

   The Last Witch Hunter is nothing I'd suggest going out of your way to see, but if you're a Vin Diesel fans, or just a fan of the genre, you'll probably enjoy this flick. It's colorful, energetic and creative. There's a lot of imaginative special effects, characters, and production design. On that note, The Last Witch Hunter scores big and is helped along by Diesel's trademark charisma- which I'm convinced can make almost any movie at least watchable. Unfortunately, the more I talk about this movie, the more I feel like I'm trying to convince myself it was worth it. However, it is not. It's so riddled with plot holes, shoddy writing, and a seriously uneven tone that despite the fact it avoids the usual pitfalls, it finds other ones to fall into right away. It's not so bad that you'll hate it, but it's not good enough that you'll be glad you saw it either. I really want to like the movie, but the more I think about it, the worse it seems.

   Find a copy of Solomon Kane and watch that instead; you'll thank me after.

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