Buried beneath a mound of poorly rendered CGI and vain attempts at establishing franchise tentpoles there is a good movie within The Last Witch Hunter. It is not easy to see, and it certainly isn’t as enjoyable as it arguably should be, but there is something here that absolutely should work. The fact it doesn’t makes an otherwise mediocre movie feel far more awful than it really is, and there are few worse fates for modern day films.
800 years ago, a group of witch hunters descended upon the fortress of a being known as the Queen Witch. Many of the warriors died in battle, but one man, Kaulder (Vin Diesel), lived to defeat the evil figurehead, and in doing so found himself cursed with immortality. He now roams the earth maintaining the peace between man and witch, taking down those whose step out of line with an array of guns, knives and the occasional flaming sword. At his side is a Dolan, otherwise known as a man who has vowed to guide and aid the witch hunter in his every endeavor, but not even an accomplice can help ease the loneliness Kaulder carries from a life never truly lived.
When we meet Kaulder in the present day, his longtime Dolan (Michael Caine) has just died under suspicious circumstances. A little investigating leads Kaulder to discover his friend was not actually murdered, but rather cursed by an evil witch using dark magic to learn secret information. The only way to break the spell is to kill the witch responsible for casting it, so Kaulder sets off on a mission of revenge. Before he can accomplish his goal however, he learns of a far bigger plot involving the resurrection of the Queen Witch that only he has the ability to stop.
If you think this all sounds a bit silly, you’re not wrong, but no one involved in the film seems to realize this point. Unlike recent big budget action spectacles like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, there is no meta humor or really any humor at all to be found in The Last Witch Hunter. The film plays as serious and straight-faced as possible, and that ultimately proves to be one of its biggest downfalls. With dark colors and a complete lack of lightheartedness to the vast majority of the script, each and every turn feels like something we must endure rather than enjoy. There is no fun to anything happening onscreen, and to make matters worse almost no one involved looks to be having fun themselves.
A movie like this only gets made with a marketing star in the lead role, and for this particular special-effects bonanza the responsibility of saving the world falls on the shoulders of Vin Diesel. As someone who seems to only work on films that have the potential to become franchises, it comes as no surprise Diesel would hope on a vehicle such as this, but given the mixed reaction the action veteran saw to the resurgence of his cult favorite character Riddick not long ago one would think Diesel smart enough to steer away from another empty, effects-heavy film. His work here demands little more than a constant grimace, the muttering of nonsensical witch history and the occasional battle with computer-generated monsters. With a little wit it all might be fun, but the film’s tone is far too dark and serious for Diesel’s typically warm aesthetic to ever be seen.
Rose Leslie is tasked with being the film’s female lead, Chloe, and in a perhaps surprising twist the role does not require her to fall in love with her male counterpart. Chloe is a witch who inadvertently finds herself caught in the middle of Kaulder’s quest, and the only way he can ensure her safety is to have her join him on his adventure. We soon learn Chloe is entirely capable of taking care of herself, and as you might expect her skills eventually prove beneficial to Kaulder’s survival as well. If this film did spawn a sequel—and I highly doubt it will—her character’s story is one I would be interested in seeing developed further.
It apparently took three people to write The Last Witch Hunter, and to be honest I find that to be kind of amazing. The fact three adults looked at the final draft of the screenplay for this film without one person questioning the tone or lack of fulfilling narrative is almost impossible to believe. There are so many ways this film could have gone right, and at every opportunity to do so the wrong move is made again and again. Diesel is wasted, the story is a bore, and the effects are some of the worst to be given a wide theatrical release this calendar year. Whatever potential there was in the initial concept for a full blown franchise has been destroyed by this creation, and I only hope the frustration I feel over having seen this messy spectacle will fade before the next Vin Diesel vehicle is released into theaters.