I feel like I’m suffering from cinematic deja vu. With most of the big budget Hollywood movies released either in summer or around Christmas, seeing a decent movie in autumn has become more the exception than the rule.
Vin Diesel’s vanity piece “The Last Witch Hunter” is in the former category, featuring a borrowed plot and borrowed actors in a by-the-numbers mess of a film. A modern setting filled with witches and wizards hiding in plain sight is the same as “Harry Potter.” The main elemental powers being air, water, earth and fire, that’s “Avatar, the Last Airbender.” The prologue when “Kaulder” (Vin Diesel) and his fellow vikings go to destroy an evil witch looks like a gritty reimagining of “Lord of the Rings.” The post apocalyptic New York looks like a borrowed set piece from “I Am Legend.” And Rose Leslie (Ygritte for “Game of Thrones” fans) continues Emilia Clarke’s trend of starring in terrible action movies when the show is off-season.
Our film opens 800 years ago, with Kaulder and some of his medieval gym buddies heading to a spooky tree to kill a witch and end the black plague. Besides the fact that the fact that the black plague hit Scandinavia more around 650 years ago, this raises a few alarm bells. If the plague is caused by evil magic, what causes other diseases? Is Louis Pasteur a fraud? Then, after killing all of his friends with surprising efficiency, the witch queen waxes poetic about how she wants to kill everyone, giving Kaulder just enough time to land a fatal blow, shouting his totally badass and not-at-all contrived catchphrase “fire and iron” as he does so. However, she “curses” him with immortality before she dies, making it so he gets to live in an awesome mansion with a staff of servants for 800 years, fighting witches and partying every week. You would think that if your goal was to kill every human on Earth, giving one of them eternal life would be a step in the wrong direction.
It may seem like I’m getting really mired in complaining about small details in this review, but understand that I really don’t have anything else to work with. The film’s entire plot is based on contrived coincidences, with feigned plot points upon feigned plot points tessellating outwards in one mess of a plot. I honestly wonder if there was a read through of the script before filming, because characters suffer from either magical precognition or inexplicable lapses in judgment. Each plot point is either shouted at the audience with little or no context or hastily explained after the fact amidst a chorus of Diesel growls. The film honestly feels like it was written by a staff suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, as I’m sure that anyone who noticed the glaring inaccuracies of the plot probably decided against speaking up, lest Diesel give them “Indian burns” for criticizing his vanity project.
Aside from the overall anachronisms and character idiocy in the plot, there are also some traits of truly terrible writing throughout the story. The plot opens with a mystery about who killed Michael Caine, one of Kaulder’s manservants, but within five minutes we’re told who the killer is, where he’s hiding and what his motivations are. It kind of ruins the element of a mystery when us, the characters and everyone else in the known universe knows the identity and whereabouts of the killer. Also, having a protagonist who’s an unstoppable, immortal killing machine leaves little in question about what will happen to the antagonists and builds no tension.
The dialogue also suffers heavily, and not just from Vin Diesel’s perfunctory grasp of the English language. Everything in the plot involving witches is named by taking the primary noun and tacking the word “witch” in front of it. An example sentence would be “I went to the witch bar for some witch cocktails but I got a witch DUI and now the witch council wants to send me to witch prison.” And yes, while that is hilarious, even entertainingly bad can become annoyingly bad when it comprises almost every line of spoken dialogue.
The supporting characters suffer the most from the surprisingly bad writing, as I know that Rose Leslie, Michael Caine and Elijah Wood are capable actors. You can practically see them rolling their eyes with every line, contemplating firing their agents as soon as they wrap filming. It doesn’t help that they have to share screen time with Diesel, who is only capable of showing one facial expression in the whole film, which is a mix of grim determination and constipation.
I know everything I’ve mentioned thus far sounds bad, but the film managed to hold me until the end. It had an inept charm about it, and I started to appreciate its unintentional hilarity. Some of the visuals were nice as well, so it was at least as entertaining as my parents jangling their keys when I was a toddler. However, the ending showed such ineptitude that it finally lost me, and all my goodwill faded away.
After finding out that he’s not actually immortal and the witch queen was simply using him as a vessel to prolong her life, Kaulder hits a vial of glowing semen with his sword and kills her for good, again. However, right before he destroys her heart and ends his own immortality, he decides not to for some reason, and the film ends. It just seems that a man who curses his eternal life would actually take the opportunity to die, and not stay alive to hang out with Leslie some more.
For any of you potential filmmakers out there, your assigned homework is to watch “The Last Witch Hunter” and write an oath, written in your own blood, to never, ever, and under no circumstance write or film anything you see during the movie. You see, I’m actually an immortal, angry witch that haunts movie theaters, and if you make anything this bad, I’ll curse you with incurable Diesel face.
Rating: .5 stars