Wednesday 21 October 2015

The Last Witch Hunter review

The Last Witch Hunter (12A/PG-13, 106 mins)
Director: Breck Eisner
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

When you’re the star of what is currently the most lucrative franchise in cinema and can pretty much take your pick of projects, it looks like an odd choice for Vin Diesel to pitch himself front and centre in a hokey-looking fantasy horror.

There have been no shortage of duds involving witches and their ilk of late, and anything with a whiff of Dungeons and Dragons has been roundly rejected by audiences. And yet The Last Witch Hunter, while by no means particularly good, sets its sights on a low bar and clears it with some style. By maintaining a sense of fun and of its own silliness it stays on just the right side of ripe, and Diesel more or less manages to sell it, even through the nonsense he's forced to speak.

A meaty prologue gives us medieval Vin, where he and his beardy, leather-clad pals tackle a witch queen who has been terrorising the lands and is responsible for spreading the plague. The only way to deal with her is, of course, by sticking her through the heart. Diesel’s character, named Kaulder, manages this, but in the process the witch curses him with immortality.

There can be only one, and 800 years later we're in modern day New York where Kaulder functions as a guardian, keeping an eye on witches and making sure they stick to their code of not bothering the humans. Given that the title conjures notions of him spending most of the running time, well, hunting witches, it’s not the all out action fest that might have been expected.

Instead there’s a lot time devoted to details and backstory. There’s an old priest and a young priest, played by Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, who are known as Dolans, an order of aides who have been by Kaulder’s side through the centuries. With Caine’s Dolan 36 about to hand over the reins to Wood’s 37, he comes under attack, leading Kaulder to investigate what some bad witches may be up to in the city.

When it comes to plotting The Last Witch Hunter is largely gibberish, particularly in a final third that grows increasingly undisciplined. But there are still some worthwhile developments along the way and in terms of the mythology created, it actually contains one or two original ideas.

It's not been put together on the usual mega budget but the special effects and production design are of an accordingly decent standard, and it really does look very nice. It has a sense of humour, Diesel is a competent star, and for daft undemanding fun you could do a lot worse.

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