Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Watched The Last Witch Hunter, So You Don’t Have To

The supernatural action movie is a tricky genre to get right, so much so that the only exception I can think of is John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and of course Indiana Jones.  But as a rule the two genres don’t really play well together.  Arnold did End of Days with Gabriel Byrne as the devil, and more recently there was Van Helsing with Wolverine, which was a slow motion CGI car crash, and Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters, which was perhaps slightly better.  It seems to work better if you set the film in the past, or Middle Earth, but it falls apart in a contemporary setting.  I suppose as an audience we’re prepared to accept demonic possession, haunted computers or a zombie apocalypse, or leaping from an exploding helicopter and firing off your twin handguns held sideways amidst slow motion doves, but not together in the same movie.  It’s not chocolate and peanut butter, more like chocolate and barbecue sauce, two sweet sensations with very different expectations and results.
Which brings us to The Last Witch Hunter (2015) starring Vin Diesel of the Fast and Furious Franchise, speaking of slow motion CGI car crashes.  The Fast and the Furious began as a Point Break with street racers and somehow evolved into an Ocean’s 11-Mission Impossible three ring circus, but still with street racers.  It’s ironic because Vin Diesel refused to do the sequel to XXX (2002) amidst fears of being typecast as a muscle-bound action hero. 
There are many elements of The Last Witch Hunter that I appreciated, which gets points for being an original movie (I use the term both loosely and generously) and not a sequel or a remake.  It also stars one of my favorite new actors, Rose “You know nothing Jon Snow” McIver from Downton Abbey, Utopia and that show about games.  Additionally Elijah Wood and Michael Caine show up to cash their paychecks and add some legitimacy to a frankly forgettable and derivative script.
It’s Highlander vs. Constantine, as Vin Diesel plays an immortal warrior hunting witches through the centuries for a secret Vatican cult all the way up to modern New York.  That’s about all you get, except for the CGI, which is vast, abundant, unimpressive and non-threatening.  Also a lot of jump-cuts and quick edits in the fight scenes instead of actual fight choreography.  It’s an editorial trick that makes the actors and stuntmen look far more skilled than they actually are.
I did enjoy the witch subculture, the elemental charms and the overgrown indoor garden interior design scheme that all the witches seemed to prefer.  Rose McIver runs a cool witch speakeasy that looks like it would be fun to hang out in, and there’s a witch fashion show where all the models are enchanted.
Also, I’ve seen worse.  I’ve seen movies that actually made me dumber, (I’m talking about you, Bullet to the Head 2012) and I’ve seen movies that disappointed me.  The best I can say about The Last Witch Hunter is this did neither.
And if you really want to watch a decent movie about witch hunters, seek out Witch Finder General (1968) with the great Vincent Price where he wanders around accusing unfortunate women of sorcery and witchcraft in 17th Century England.  It’s far more historically accurate than anything in The Last Witch Hunter and Vincent Price wears a glorious pageboy wig.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.