Here it is: the review I promised yesterday:
Director: Breck Eisner (The Crazies, Sahara)
Writer: Cory Goodman (Priest), Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold), Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold)
Vin Diesel: Kaulder
Rose Leslie: Chloe
Michael Caine: Dolan the 36th
Elijah Wood: Dolan the 37th
Well, I had some high hopes for The Last Witch Hunter, but as I discussed yesterday, fantasy films don’t have the best track record. But, it turns out that I was not disappointed. That’s not to say that the film was perfect, but we’ll get back to that, I suppose.
First, let’s realize that director Breck Eisner has two big-budget films under his belt, and the three writers have another two big-budget films under their belts. Now, none of these three films can be considered a blockbuster, so from a historical perspective, on paper The Last Witch Hunter might not look too promising.
But, somehow, it seemed to work for me.
Vin Diesel’s Kaulder, cursed with immortality by the Witch Queen so that he might never know peace after losing his wife and child, is believable enough. A man who has lived 800 years in the service of the Order of the Axe and Cross, hunting witches and generally staying out of the public eye, who has, over the years, taken a somewhat softer approach to his duties, imprisoning witches that violate the peace that has existed since the Witch Queen’s death instead of killing them.
Kaulder is served by Dolan, a priest who takes the name of the priest that was present at the Witch Queen’s death, and who hides Kaulder’s identity across time. Michael Caine plays Dolan the 36th, who is retiring after fifty years of service as the recorder of all things witch hunting. He is also one of the few who Kaulder calls friend, preferring to be alone with his mission and immortality.
Caine is in top-notch, full-on, Alfred the butler mode in his dealings with Kaulder, pressing him for what he might do if he was somehow mortal again. As always, Caine’s portrayal of the loyal servant/friend lends a much needed humanity to the tragic hero he serves.
The murder of Dolan on the eve of his retirement opens the door for Dolan the 37th, played by Elijah Wood, to take his place at Kaulder’s side. The script, however, keeps shuffling 37 off the screen, relegating him to little more than a bit part until the ending sequence, when his involvement becomes crucial to the story.
As for the story, it is somewhat predicatable in spots, but, realistically, that’s because stories like this tend to progress in a fairly standard way: X must happen for Y to occur, in order for information Z to be learned, etc….
You get the idea.
This isn’t bad; it’s just an observation about the realities of story-telling.
But it’s no worse than the kind of contrived, deus ex machina plotting that covers more successful movies such the Mission Impossible franchise or even the James Bond films. So, please, don’t hold it against The Last Witch Hunter.
The overall tone of the movie was really good for me; I thought that there was a nice mix between the “dark ages” Kaulder and the “now” Kaulder. There wasn’t a lot of overt humor, but more of some humorous undertones, but otherwise the movie kept a generally darker tone, in fitting with the subject matter. Except in one spot. At one point, Kaulder and Chloe are dealing with a witch in order to obtain some spell ingredients they need, and after it all goes sideways, there is a line-a word, really-inserted that is designed solely to elicit some laughter from the audience, but I found that it doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the film.
Add to that fact the realization that I saw the line coming, said it to myself before the actress did, and desperately prayed that it wouldn’t be said at all, and was crushed that it was….
I’m going to go with: “three writers and a studio that wanted more funny,” for $500, Alex.
As for my observation yesterday that I was looking forward to a D&D movie, I think we really did get that, despite its mostly contemporary setting. Situationally, everything that happens is easily recognizable to any RPGer, especially D&D players. One of the characters is actually referred to as a level 14 wizard by Kaulder was hilarious, and I can’t help but think that perhaps Vin had more input than we know about some of the dialogue…
Regardless, I’m going to give the movie 3 out of 4 stars, probably pushing 3.5. It’s fun, and though I don’t often say this, maybe a bit short at one-hour-forty-ish minutes. I wonder what got left on the cutting room floor? Maybe some back-story on 37? Maybe some flashbacks to Kaulder and 36 working together?
Who knows, but maybe it will show up in the Blu-ray special features. Or maybe they’ll add a “Special Edition” version to the Blu-ray release.
I’d watch that again.
See you around the shadow.