The Last Witch Hunter

Posted by Joel Copling on October 22, 2015

"The Last Witch Hunter" operates within the world of (You guessed it) witches, curses, an ancient organization of vaguely Catholic origin, and magic that operates with a specific set of rules. Thankfully, however, the screenplay explains almost nothing regarding any of that, confining their dialogue-driven expository dump to the specifics of the narrative and thus retaining a sense of appealing mystique. That the narrative isn't really anything special is, until the final twenty minutes, almost beside the point. There is a strangely lived-in quality here: The rules are the rules, the different elements of this alternate version of reality exist on their own accord and merits, and we are given a characteristically stoic hero to rally behind.

And it helps that Kaulder, said hero, is played by Vin Diesel, he of the mighty baritone and reflectively bald visage. It's a bit disconcerting to see Diesel with the head and facial hair of the traditional representation of a Viking, but it's still a role that immediately belongs to the actor's alternately straight-faced and deadpan sensibilities. Kaulder is a formidable warrior against the dark threat of the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht, a slithery and intimidating presence through a sheen of computerized effects that somehow work to enhance her otherworldly nature), whom he defeats in a thrilling opening sequence but not before she curses him with eternal life.

Kaulder has now employed a series of Dolans, protectors and glorified secretaries who must act as the immortal man's protector either until death or until that protector has reached an old-enough age to retire his services. Kaulder's latest is the 36th in line, played by the great Michael Caine in a performance that affords elegance to a role that might not really deserve it, preparing for his own retirement and the arrival of the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood) when the former eventuality instead intervenes. Kaulder, his new companion, and a magic-waitress (?) named Chloe (Rose Leslie), who has a rare gift of her own, investigate the very otherworldly aftermath of the crime, which may lead back to Kaulder's own, tortured past.

Director Breck Eisner is then presented with an unfortunate challenge by screenwriters Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless: to conclude the film with a climax that follows in the footsteps of the intriguing daffy events that came before. On this score, "The Last Witch Hunter" sadly underwhelms. The narrative's weight is deadened by the need to fulfill a lot of MacGuffins and a "surprise twist" that makes no sense, given the involvement of another character in the plot, and leaves no impact, given that the character's entire reason for being here is rendered inconsequential. Couple these circumstances with a lot of indistinguishable visual noise captured in dank, gloomy black and blue hues, and we have a movie that leaves its potential hanging without the confidence to follow through.

Film Information

Vin Diesel (Kaulder), Rose Leslie (Chloe), Elijah Wood (Dolan the 37th), Olafur Darri Olafsson (Belial), Rena Owen (Glaesar), Julie Engelbrecht (The Witch Queen), Michael Caine (Dolan the 36th).

Directed by Breck Eisner and written by Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless.

Rated PG-13 (fantasy violence/frightening images).

106 minutes.

Released on October 23, 2015.