Film Review: The Last Witch Hunter

on October 21, 2015, 5:00pm

Early on in The Last Witch Hunter, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) hotwires a series of ancient runes in order to prevent a suddenly conjured thunderstorm from tearing the plane he’s on out of the sky. You did not misread this; in the film’s universe, weather runes should not be concealed together in close quarters, lest sky tornadoes suddenly erupt. Were The Last Witch Hunter the kind of film that ran with this sort of outlandish idea, following an immortal being through various misadventures in the world of ill-applied magic, it might have proven more engaging than the film that ensues instead, one that’s every bit as generic as its misnomer of a title.

The Last Witch Hunter is ostensibly accurate (and also a commentary on the film’s likely prospects that we’ll leave to you), but then in this world it would appear that Kaulder has been the only witch hunter on Earth for quite some time. In prologue, we learn that Kaulder was one of a number of warriors tasked with destroying the queen of all witches, 800 years ago. They succeeded, but not before the queen transferred the curse of immortality to Kaulder. The Axe & Cross, a brotherhood of priests, was tasked with protecting their unkillable asset, allowing him to live through countless times in the pursuit of witches. However, there’s also an armistice between his group and the witches’ governace that allows them to live in secret, with Kaulder as their known punishment for transgression.

And that’s barely the half of it. To work through the many layers of exposition that The Last Witch Hunter unloads would take longer than this review has to get to why the film isn’t very good, so in brief: Kaulder’s latest Dolan, the title given to each priest who must protect Kaulder until their time is over, is the 36th (Michael Caine), who appears to helpfully explain the complicated universe of witch-priest relations until such time as he must perish to set the plot in motion. Once he does, the 37th (Elijah Wood) takes over, and together they set out to discover who cursed the 36th, and before long, to stop the resurgence of the Witch Queen before it can start. Joining them is Chloe (Rose Leslie), a “dreamwalker” who can enter others’ minds and…well, it’s kind of variable what happens from there, to be perfectly honest.

That’s to say nothing of the various powers and potions that end up involved, or the endless turnarounds and deceptions the film employs to cover for the very simple fact that it’s the same sort of franchise-launching, CG-heavy morass of go-nowhere incidents and overcomplicated storytelling that’s existed ever since Underworld proved that all enterprising studios need to launch a fantasy franchise is a darkened visual palette and a handful of recognizable performers. It’s a shame, too, because at the center of the fiasco is a Vin Diesel performance that serves as a reminder of how oddly charismatic the actor can be in even the most flaccid material. His one-liners, over-excessive line readings, and moments of banter with Caine enliven what’s otherwise a fairly soulless enterprise.

Aside from Kaulder it’s all the same: plot threads that go nowhere, effects setpieces that mean nothing from a “sentinel” of the witches’ prison that resembles a gigantic burning anus made of sticks to a terrifying swarm of insects that seemingly nobody in New York City has any concern about, and a plot that crumbles under even the slightest scrutiny. (A late character betrayal is such nonsense that it’s virtually impossible to avoid at least a chortle of derisive laughter, especially when it’s the second one that character commits within roughly 20 minutes of screen time.) The Last Witch Hunter is bold enough to end on the sort of note that would suggest further adventures yet to come for Kaulder, but it’s hard to imagine that much demand will follow it.