Directed by: Breck Eisner
Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Vin Diesel is famous for his work in movies where he generally plays a big, strong guy who speaks softly but can kick you across the country and back. He’s also famous among nerds for being a huge, huge nerd himself. In fact, the story and titular character in “The Last Witch Hunter” grew out of Diesel talking about one of his Dungeons and Dragons characters with a filmmaker friend. Even better, it’s a surprisingly good film if you like supernatural action stories.
In the world of “The Last Witch Hunter,” witches aren’t human. They look human when they want to, and in the modern day many of them live peacefully among humans. The peace is kept by a longstanding truce between the Witch Council and The Axe and Cross, a religious organization once dedicated to wiping witches out entirely. The titular character is Kaulder (Diesel), a warrior who was cursed with immortality when he slew the Witch Queen 800 years ago. When what looks like a simple death turns out to be far, far more, Kaulder sets out to find the truth. With young witch Chloe (Rose Leslie) and his latest handler supplied by The Axe and Cross (Elijah Wood), he has to figure out what’s going on and find a way to stop the villains.
The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare, and laid out well. These tropes and plot structures are familiar and often used because they work. “The Last Witch Hunter” is a solid, workmanlike movie, whose biggest flaw is what seems to have been an editing choice to remove a subplot from the middle of the film. One of the secondary characters vanishes for a significant chunk of the story, with no explanation of where he is or what he’s up to.
Otherwise, this is a fun time at the movies flick. Its violence is largely fantasy-style and not full of spattering blood and disgusting sound effects. The acting is solid, especially from Leslie, who plays the closest thing to a complex character the film has to offer. Diesel and the other actors seem to be having a good time, even the ones under a lot of prosthetics. The special effects are good without being flashy. The huge monsters and monstrous villains are created through a mix of practical and computer effects that work pretty well. It’s easy to let suspension of disbelief take over and just enjoy the ride.
On the surface, “The Last Witch Hunter” looks like it’s going to be a so-bad-it’s-good flick, but instead it’s actually a solid B-movie. It has no pretensions of being arty or original. It sets its sights on being entertaining, and succeeds. It’s on the strong end of the PG-13 rating, and probably not for younger kids or squeamish adults. If, on the other hand, the image of a heavily-bearded Vin Diesel impaling the Witch Queen with a flaming two-handed broadsword appeals, you are in the target audience.