THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Fantasy Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: Breck Eisner

Written by: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless

Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Olafur Darri Olafsson & Julie Engelbrecht

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is the latest in a long line of would-be franchise starters that feature immortal monster slayers (e.g. DRACULA UNTOLD, CONSTANTINE, etc.). This film came and went in a flash during this past October and didn’t leave much (if any) of an impact on the general public. You kind of know what to expect when you’re walking into this film. I wanted to see Vin Diesel killing witches six ways to Sunday with some semblance of a plot that was really just an excuse for witch slaying. However, that’s not quite what this film is. Instead, LAST WITCH HUNTER is more of a mystery-procedural that happens to have witchcraft and swordplay. I was pleasantly surprised by this during the first hour. However, I became utterly bored during the second half, when the film slows to a drag thanks to needlessly complicated plot twists and terrible CGI.

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Kaulder has been hunting and slaying witches since the Dark Ages. His origins began upon discovering an evil witch responsible for the Black Plague. Kaulder slayed the Witch Queen and was cursed with eternal life as an end result. Centuries later, Kaulder has become jaded with his infinite existence as a weapon for the Axe and Cross (a secret organization that keeps a truce between witches and mortals). When his latest record-keeper (Michael Caine in search of a quick paycheck) winds up dead, Kaulder begins to investigate possible dark magic responsible for the old man’s demise. Aided by witch/bar owner Chloe, the duo begin to uncover a centuries-old conspiracy that could unleash a second Black Plague upon the world.

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This movie kicked off with promise. I liked the general look, fast pace, tongue-in-cheek humor, and action during the first half. The prologue sets things up nicely and delivers one of the best fight scenes in the film. The mystery-procedural plot that began unfolding also had my interest to a point. The dynamic between Vin Diesel (doing his typical bad-ass thing as Kaulder) and Rose Leslie (fitting the supernatural sidekick role well as Chloe) is entertaining to watch, while Elijah Wood (the protégé record-keeper) damn near disappears from the screen after the first 30 minutes (only popping up to service the conclusion). WITCH HUNTER does a fairly good job of setting up its mythology without delving too deeply into heavy exposition…until around the hour mark.

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Halfway through the running time, this movie decided to do the polar opposite of everything that was working in its favor. The results, as you can probably imagine, are not too entertaining. Action set pieces are fast forgotten for heavy-handed twists that play out with lots of awkward explanations. LAST WITCH HUNTER actually has two separate moments were villains stop the entire movie to monologue about their evil (and clichéd) plans in case the viewer was too stupid to understand where all of this was heading. However, that might be the case as some last-minute revelations really come out of nowhere in a bad way. This movie would have been just fine as a straightforward supernatural actioner and I simply don’t understand the need to overcomplicate the story with useless plot twists. The effects also suffer during this latter half and the finale is overlong and disappointing. Most of the effects in the final showdown resemble Syfy Channel quality. This is especially true of one cartoony monster that didn’t fit in with the rest of the magic and witches.

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Most of the problems with THE LAST WITCH HUNTER arrive during the second half of the film. Up until that point, I was having fun watching Vin Diesel solve a dark magic mystery and hunt witches. While Diesel definitely slays some witches after the story takes a nosedive, it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch thanks to convoluted plot twist after convoluted plot twist. This movie could have been big dumb fun, but instead it’s just plain dumb. Don’t expect a franchise to emerge out of this lackluster flick. I’d actually recommend CONSTANTINE or END OF DAYS over this missed opportunity.

Grade: C-

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