The Last Witch Hunter
Vin Diesel's scowly commitment can't save this lacklustre film.
November 10, 2015
When he's not playing the hero — anti- or otherwise —, Vin Diesel is quite the fan of Dungeons & Dragons. It's worth keeping that tidbit in mind as The Last Witch Hunter unravels, because that's where the film finds its basis. Cory Goodman, one of the movie's three writers, reportedly bonded with Diesel over their shared fondness for the fantasy role-playing game, then wrote a script based upon the actor's witch hunter D&D character.
Goodman's love letter to his leading man's favourite pastime has since been filtered through two other scribes (Dracula Untold's Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless), as well as Sahara and The Crazies director Breck Eisner. But that doesn't stop it from feeling like the indulgent exercise that it is. And while no one is decrying Diesel for wanting to do something on film other than driving fast cars furiously and exchanging lingering glances with The Rock, he's not asked to do much here other than look serious amid some supernatural special effects.
As the movie's moniker gives away, Diesel's Kaulder is the final fighter of the bewitching folk who live among humanity, and has been for eight centuries. After he vanquished the Witch Queen in the 13th century, he was cursed with immortality, meaning years of trying to rid the world of the evil and enchanting. As his offsider (Michael Caine) prepares to retire and let a newcomer (Elijah Wood) take his place, a fresh source of wicked sorcery strikes. With his past the key to his present predicament, Kaulder must call upon bar-owning good witch Chloe (Rose Leslie) to help him plunge into his own memories and track down his new foe.
That The Last Witch Hunter comes across as Batman-esque isn't just a byproduct of Caine playing a butler-like priest. When a moody, brooding warrior stalks the city streets slaying enemies, motivated by personal losses and a blistering sense of righteousness, it's not hard to find similarities between the two. Alas, the comparison doesn't bode well for the derivative film currently on screens, particularly when there's not much more of a plot to tie it to.
Diesel tries his best to make his scowling charm cover up the lack of narrative excitement, but though his efforts are noted, they're not the magic fix the movie needs. Still, other than slick-enough visuals and a few fun touches (a ravenous monster for a prison and a tree bewitched to appear to grow gummy bears, for example), he remains the best element of the surprisingly action-sparse film. He might stand around more than you'd think he should, but you have to admire his dedication to the messiness that surrounds him.
Audiences might not be engaged in the occult antics that pad out the film's running time, nor the plodding dialogue that does the same, but at least Diesel is committed — and considerably more so than his seemingly bored co-stars, as doesn't escape attention. Unfortunately, as the later two Riddick films proved, his enthusiasm isn't enough to brighten up the blandness he willingly and affectionately wades into when he's not behind the wheel of a high-octane franchise.