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Entries in Last Witch Hunter/The [2015] (1)

Friday
Oct232015

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

Craft Cheese 

I'm not here to defend The Last Witch Hunter, but I'm not here to not defend it, either. Vin Diesel has built a career of starters and non-starters in every action sub-genre: globe-trotting spy (xXx), space-opera soloist (the Riddick movies), and, most notably, the invincible-stunt-men fantasy of the Fast and Furious series. The Last Witch Hunter is Diesel's beefcake-with-abilities bouillabaisse, an attempt to re-imagine himself as John Constantine and The Crow, as James Bond and Batman. It's what off-brand comic-book movies must look like in the Potterverse. That probably sounds atrocious, but it totally works.

Diesel stars as Kaulder an eight-hundred-year-old warrior charged by a renegade faction of the Catholic Church with tracking down witches and bringing them to justice. His wife and daughter were killed by the Plague, which, it turns out, was a a weapon of the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht). She's long dead, but her disciples have spread across time and continents, the immortal targets of Kaulder's one(ish)-man war on black magic.

Michael Caine figuratively reprises his "Alfred" role from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, playing Kaulder's loyal servant and gadget master, Dolan the 36th. He almost literally reprises the "Alfred" frole from Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, after his character suffers a near-fatal attack. The Dark Arts Knight must save his friend from a movie-long magic coma by wrestling the antidote from his nemesis' cold clutches.

Joining him on this quest are Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood), a wide-eyed agent of the church's Axe and Cross order, and Chloe (Rose Leslie), a feisty good witch uncertain of her full potential. Working closely with Hellboy Kaulder, they battle various villains working in concert to resurrect the Witch Queen, who in turn wants to resurrect her bulging nests of plague flies and finish destroying the world.* The flies get out, of course, and the order's Ecto Containment Unit witch prison cracks open, leading to a climactic showdown between Kaulder, the Witch Queen, and a giant Transformer made of bones and lava (during this skirmish, Kitty Pride Chloe struggles to keep one of the Queen's henchmen trapped in a dream world so he can't join the group spell that allows the plague flies to--oh, never mind).

The only thing that keeps The Last Witch Hunter from being this year's I, Frankenstein is Diesel's commitment to carving a new icon out of an alarmingly limited acting range. Frankly, it's embarrassing to watch his brand of smell-the-fart acting during the allegedly tear-jerking scenes, but he's otherwise so charming and so seemingly unaware of the screenplay's ripped-off content that his enthusiasm buoys the production's lamer aspects. Yes, there's a lot of dodgy CGI here, from fiery hell-spawn tentacles to inscrutable power-burst pastiches, but there's a good deal of practical effects work, too, and some really inventive digital artistry. The Witch Queen never creeped me out, but I couldn't help but stare at the intricately etched weathering of her skin, and the slimy night crawlers draped from her scalp. I was also genuinely surprised by an effect involving the fabric of reality cracking like glass during Kaulder's fight with a scruffy sorcerer (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). 

As odd as this sounds, I might have missed these minor details had Diesel, Wood, and Caine not lent an air of mainstream credibility to the film. The Last Witch Hunter plays like a real movie, even if it's just a multi-million-dollar YouTube mash-up of better genre pictures. This is a fun, dumb, and utterly enjoyable time-killer whose franchise prospects don't outright annoy me. I typed that without a sliver of snark in my heart, which may be proof of miracles--or, a the very least, magic.

*The reasons for this are never made clear. The Witch Queen complains that humans are a weak, ugly species, or something (hard to hear past all that hissing and growling). That's rich, coming from a supernatural sorceress with worms for hair and an inability to repel giant, flaming swords.