A monster flop
Despite a stellar cast, The Last Witch Hunter is a drab, lifeless affair where even the actors look bored
Let's be honest for a second here, none of us expected The Last Witch Hunter to be any good. Even with superstars of the calibre of Vin Diesel (Fast And Furious), Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones), Elijah Wood (The Lord Of The Rings) and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), it wasn't difficult to tell that this would be another mediocre feature in Hollywood's failing attempt to revitalise the classic monsters of yore for the young, contemporary audience of today, much like the films I Am Frankenstein (2014) and Dracula: Untold (2014).
On that front, at least, the movie doesn't disappoint.
Starring Vin Diesel as Kaulder, the titular character, the film begins in an icy wasteland that looks like it belongs in a low-budget fantasy series on television, where we see Kaulder and his band of witch hunters delve into the lair of the witch queen in order to kill her and end the plague curse she had cast on the land. They fight the witch queen's goons (who somehow manage to convey more emotion than Vin Diesel despite looking like an angry tangle of roots), and Kaulder manages to impale the witch queen with his burning sword in an attempt to die with her and see his dead wife and daughter, because of course he has to have a death wish for him to be "cursed" with eternal life.
That's exactly what happens, and the film suddenly flashes forwards 800 years into the present day, where Kaulder now possesses the suaveness of James Bond -- able to charm cute flight attendants into sleeping with him right after the plane they were on was this close to being blown out of the sky -- despite being as stiff as a brick. Kaulder is now part of a strange religious organisation (kind of like in MIB) tasked with hunting down witches, with Priest Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine) as his adviser and handler. Right on the eve of his retirement, Dolan the 36th is attacked by an evil sorcerer. Kaulder investigates -- with Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) in tow -- and predictably uncovers a plot that could jeopardise the entire world.
If there was a checklist of what can go wrong with a film, I'm almost certain that Witch Hunter would have them all. The script, which distinctly feels like it comes from a fantasy novel series (hint: it's not), tries and fails to create an interesting world where humans and witches coexist, showing nothing of the presumably intricate web of politics that must underline this fragile coexistence. While the world of the film does contain a sense of history, it's never explored beyond the necessities of the painfully predictable plot. We never learn of the intricacies of the witch counsel, or the inner workings of the Axe and Cross, the religious organisation that handles Kaulder. Heck, the only characters we see from the entire organisation are the two Dolans, and even they don't get much screen time, with both Dolans entirely gone from the second act. The witches and sorcerers we meet do have playful story elements attached to them (like that guy putting "mind-control" worms into cupcake batter), very much like MIB as well.
Kaulder himself is also woefully underdeveloped, a sad fact that is not helped by Vin Diesel's wooden portrayal of the character. Despite being over 800-years-old, Kaulder still manages to come off as arrogant and cocky instead of wise and confident. He doesn't have the presence or charisma of someone who has lived forever. What Kaulder does have is an interesting past (he's mentioned to have met the likes of Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler. Given the last one's documented interest with the occult, that would've been an interesting story to tell), though we never really see any of it. The only flashback sequences in the film revolve around Kaulder's dead wife and daughter, who died for reasons unexplained in the film (or I may have missed it myself. Either way, it doesn't say very much for the film's story-telling).
Even the actors seem to be aware of the brainless plot, as every single actor seems to only be going through the motions in their scenes. We don't expect Vin Diesel to win any awards for acting, but actors like Michael Caine, Elijah Wood and Rose Leslie have more than shown us their incredible calibre in the past, but only seem to be getting through their scenes to be done with them. The two Dolans do manage to evoke some levity from an otherwise drab script (Elijah Wood's line "please don't think less of me" did give me a pleasant chuckle), but Rose Leslie's character manages to be annoying and stiff in a lot of her scenes. Its understandable for witches to be wary of witch hunters, but there's a line between reserved-hostility and just outright obnoxiousness, and Chloe manages to land on the wrong side of the line for almost half the time we know her. The fact that her incredibly rare "dreamwalking" abilities are a convenient plot-device doesn't make my impressions of her better, either.
When all is said and done, The Last Witch Hunter is a first in what is obviously planned to be a new action series, using the adolescent-novel model like The Hunger Games or Maze Runner, without actually being a novel series itself. The film's world-building suffers from too much ambiguity in the characters' motives and history (presumably saving them for a possible sequel), and the intricacies of the world are glossed over, making it all feel lifeless and fabricated. Kaulder may never be able to die, but if the (possible) next instalments continue to go down the same path, the franchise he's in is certainly going to.