THE LAST WITCH HUNTER Movie Review – The First Shall Be Last
While the Fast & Furious franchise shows little sign of slowing down commercially (the most recent entry easily topped $1 billion globally), reversing the diminishing box-office returns typical of sequels and franchise entries, Vin Diesel continues the seemingly endless search for his next, career-extending franchise. Roddick, the third film set in the Pitch Black universe, proved to be a non-starter financially two years ago, prematurely ending one franchise (until the inevitable Pitch Black reboot with or without an aging, pushing-50 Vin Diesel, of course), leaving only Diesel’s long-gestating passion project (based, in part, on his unabashed love of everything Dungeons & Dragons), The Last Witch Hunter, a blandly derivative, dully unoriginal action-fantasy film, as the other possible franchise for Diesel. The word “Last” in The Last Witch Hunter may prove to be prophetic, however, much to Diesel’s eternal disappointment.
When we first meet Diesel, he’s all but unrecognizable as a handsomely bearded, longhaired 13th century warrior for Christ (amen), Kaulder. Setting out with backup singers (actually fellow warriors, all of them immediately disposable, immediately forgettable), the monosyllabic Kaulder tracks down the Giger-inspired Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) to her evil lair inside a gigantic, twisted Tree of Non-Life, Despair, and Nihilism (or something along those lines), ultimately defeating her with the Flaming Sword of Vengeance. Before the White Witch perishes, however, she “curses” Kaulder with immortality, dooming him to walk the Earth for eternity or 800 years (the present), whichever comes first. Outside of outliving everyone he knows and permanently losing his hair, it doesn’t seem like much of a curse, especially since his gift-curse sets him up nicely as the Catholic Church’s anti-witch enforcer, the Weapon (that’s actually what he’s called in the film).
In the present, Kaulder lives in an ultra-expensive New York City apartment overlooking Central Park, wears expensive clothes (presumably different iterations of the same shirt, slacks, and three-quarter coat), and beds the occasional flight attendant. While the Catholic Church and its Special Division of Anti-Witch Affairs (also known as the He-Man’s Woman-Hating Club) foots the bill for Kaulder’s lavish lifestyle, he works closely with a church-appointed handler, Father Dolan (Michael Caine). Prone to one-off info dumps, Father Dolan is also the 36th priest to serve Kaulder. He’s also ready for retirement, but an unfortunate series of events essentially removes Father Dolan from the playing field just as a coven of Super-Evil Witches (and Warlocks, as we need Warlocks and “good” witches to offset claims of misogyny) put a centuries-old plan to bring about the apocalypse (or one in a series of apocalypses) into motion.
Kaulder finds one ally, Young Father Dolan (Elijah Wood), moments before the older Dolan’s departure from this mortal realm (i.e., retirement to Florida), and another ally, Chloe (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones), a Goth-punk good witch and dream walker (it’s important to pay attention as dream walking plays a not insignificant part in the third act), later on when he suddenly develops an interest in memory enhancers (Chloe runs an adult-oriented bar that caters exclusively to witches and warlocks). Kaulder’s anti-witch prejudice gets the proverbial workout when he’s forced to work with Chloe for the common human/witch good (i.e., defeating a newly resurgent coven), but before long, they’re more or less sharing spiced chai at a local café while Kaulder reconsiders that whole wandering the earth for eternity idea, hanging up his flaming sword, settling down, and fathering mini-Kaulders with either red hair or no hair at all.
Periodic set pieces aside, directed by Breck Eisner with the workmanlike competency he’s shown in the past (The Crazies, Sahara), interrupt the obligatory, underdeveloped romance between Kaulder and Chloe. Some, to be fair, may not be imaginatively staged or even choreographed, but not for want of oddball, bizarre ideas like gummy bear-filled trees, a “witch prison” (Phantom Zone), and the aforementioned Tree of Non-Life, Despair, and Nihilism (it goes unnamed in the film, it should be added). Unfortunately — you probably knew an “unfortunately” was on the way — The Last Witch Hunter does little with its few good ideas and everything with its derivative, unoriginal ones, seguing through a haphazardly written or rewritten script, risible dialogue short on any semblance of humor, and yawn-inducing, “surprise” plot turns even the most unsophisticated 12-year-old will predict minutes into The Last Witch Hunter.