Vin Diesel brings his love of Dungeons & Dragons to cinemas with Director Breck Eisner’s The Last Witch Hunter. Is it the fresh fantasy epic we need or just another retread?
Kaulder (Diesel) is a witch hunter who has lived for 800 years. He’s lived so long because he was cursed with immortality by the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), whom he defeated in the past. Now in the present day, Kaulder is the last witch hunter thanks to a truce between humans and the magic worlds. He serves a division of the Church called the Axe and the Cross. His handler is known as a Dolan and Dolan 36 (Michael Caine) is retiring. However, when Dolan 36 is murdered by magic, Kaulder and the new Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood) have to investigate the crime. Kaulder learns that the truth lies in his past, so he enlists the help of Chloe (Rose Leslie), a witch who can concoct a memory potion to help him remember. Who is committing magical violence against humans and why? Kaulder aims to find out.
I liked the initial premise of The Last Witch Hunter and it builds an interesting world for its characters to inhabit. Kaulder is kind of a James Bond who fights magic, which is very cool. The problem is the film felt overstuffed with a lot of expository dialogue and almost too much world-building. It’s a fine line that filmmakers have to walk when making original genre pictures. You have to make sure the audience understands the world that you’re building, but you can’t let it overpower the story you’re trying to tell and that kind of happens here. The plot wasn’t terribly different from Seventh Son from earlier this year and while the visual effects were great for the most part, one climactic effect hearkens back to one of Diesel’s own films, Pitch Black. Also, one of the big themes in the film is that Kaulder continues to mourn his wife and child, who were both murdered hundreds of years ago. That’s a fine theme to have in your film, but please don’t blatantly steal imagery from Gladiator when telling the audience this. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture for God’s sake. The twist at the very end of the film felt like it came a little out of left field and the forced romantic pairing between Diesel and Leslie didn’t work for me either. Despite the interesting world, it feels like we’ve seen this film before and the villain is pretty weak on top of that.
The cast does a decent job with what they’re given, but I have to say, Diesel is hit and miss here. At times he’s very charismatic and others he sounds like the worst actor in the world in how he delivers his lines. He’s quite the enigma. Caine is great as always and feels like he’s settled into these manservant roles since first taking on Alfred in Batman Begins. It’s similar to what happened to Liam Neeson for a time after he starred in The Phantom Menace—it seemed in every film after that, he was a teacher or mentor of some kind, including the aforementioned Batman Begins. Wood is a little wasted here in that he looks like he’s going to play a major role and then he disappears for large chunks of the film once Leslie shows up. Leslie is likable, but nowhere near as good as she was on Game of Thrones, but of course that’s not totally fair since Thrones is one of the best shows on TV and The Last Witch Hunter isn’t even the best film out this week.
Overall, The Last Witch Hunter is a tale of two halves. The first half does a good job of setting up an interesting world, while the second devolves into schlock. It seems like the filmmakers were so intent on starting a new franchise that they kind of glossed over the story they had to tell in this first film. It might be good to watch on a rainy day on cable, but it’s definitely not worth a trip to the theater.