It’s a fairly well-known fact that Vin Diesel used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game. Diesel taught Judi Dench to play D&D on the set of the Chronicles of Riddick. His old D&D character has been adapted here into the main character in this movie: Kaulder, an immortal witch hunter.
Fantasy movies can be hit or miss, and are usually more enjoyable if everyone in them appears to be having fun too (yes, I will tell you to go back and watch Kull the Conqueror again). Vin Diesel is notorious for taking himself too seriously, but, on the flip side of that, he’s also notorious for really caring about giving his fans what they want. He’s wanted to step into the purely fantasy realm for a while, and this movie is a decent try.
The Last Witch Hunter starts in what appears to be pre-medieval Europe as a group of … Vikings? Knights? Warriors? And a priest (Dolan) are heading towards a “plague tree”. This is basically a tree the size of a mountain that the evil Witch Queen has used to help nurture and then spread the black plague. It’s been wiping everyone out – including Kaulder’s wife and child, so he and the others are headed towards the tree to attempt to kill the Witch Queen.
Once they arrive at the tree, they are attacked by the Queen’s followers – who seem to all be part tree. When Kaulder finally encounters the Queen, he’s able to kill her by summoning ‘iron and fire’ with his special sword – and as she is dying, she curses him with immortality. We cut to present day, and find Kaulder securing some runes on a flight and that he is still working with Dolan, but Dolan the 36th .
He’s going on random missions for the “Axe and the Cross”, which appears to be a Catholic sect who are dedicated to fighting witches. However, we soon learn that not all witches are bad and there is a truce between humankind and witchkind. Dolan the 36th is retiring, and Kaulder gives him a gift and learns about his replacement, who will be Dolan the 37th. Well, the 36th suddenly dies right after having that conversation, and as soon as the new Dolan is sworn in, the 37th and Kaulder learn that the 36th was murdered, and they set off to find his killer.
At this point, there are a couple of red herrings, and a hidden warning from the 36th which leads Kaulder to realize that he needs to remember the details of his ‘death’ at the hands of the Witch Queen to learn who is behind this sudden conspiracy and rise of evil witches. He heads to a local witch bar, and attempts to recruit Chole, a witch with special memory-oriented powers, just as her bar is attacked by Belial – a big time evil warlock who is trying to bring back the Queen.
Eventually, with Chole’s help, Kaulder is able to learn a secret that helps him figure out what the bad guys are up to, but just after they do bring back the Queen, which leads to a big time final battle.
All that is a bit confusing, and that’s with me leaving out the bits about the witch council; the witch prison; suppressing spells; Kaulder’s own hesitation to continue his work; Dolan the 37th’s backstory; Chole’s garden and her friend’s garden; Chole’s secret power; Kaulder’s secret weapon stash; the weather runes; the witch fashion designer and models; and the weird warlock who is covered in butterflies, owns a cupcake shop, and seems to be baking maggots into the cupcakes…no, seriously – that’s a thing.
The movie is directed by Breck Eisner who previously did Recon, Thoughtcrimes, Sahara, and The Crazies. I saw Sahara – it was the only attempt at a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt movie – and was actually pretty good. It also had some lovely set design and great action. I think both of those are the strongest part of the Last Witch Hunter as well, amazing set design, and great action.
I enjoyed the movie, but I feel like it was the perfect setup to what would be an amazing SyFy TV series. I would love to see Kaulder, Dolan, and Chole’s adventures for an hour a week as they hunt down bad witches. They did a fair job of cramming a whole lot of story into the movie but that does also have a bad side of looking like they were trying way too hard to set up a franchise. The look of the movie was great! I loved the prosthetics on the Witch Queen. The cast was actually very good – and all seemed to be equally fun and over the top (which is required for something like this), except for Vin, who took it very seriously.....
- It is actually a little hard to not just see Dominic Torretto when looking at Vin Diesel at this point. He did have a fancy car in this movie, and I kept expecting him to tell Chole that he lives his life a quarter mile at a time, and that family is the most important thing. His portrayal of Kaulder is not new, not really anything you haven’t seen him do before, but - it works for the movie, and he’s certainly action capable. And can I just say - excellent job on the wig! There are so many terrible wigs in movies, and the wig/beard combo for medieval Vin looks great!
- I thought Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones stole most of the movie. She plays Chole, and she really seemed to be having a great time. Essentially, she really is playing character similar to Ygritte on GOT, but at no point does she tell Kaulder that he knows nothing. I loved the layout of the witch bar, and watching her serve ‘spells’ to patrons was really interesting. I also loved the ‘wall garden’ in her apartment.
- Elijah Wood plays Dolan the 37th, and also seems to enjoy it. He gets a couple moments of action while assisting Kaulder on some excursions/missions, and they seem to be working together well. He does get the ‘comedy relief’ bit, and honestly, he does well with what he has, but I wanted a little more on the comedy side.
- Olafur Darri Olafsson plays Belial – who is a giant dark warlock. He’s a big, imposing actor, and really perfectly chews the scenery as this villain.
- Julie Engelbrecht plays the Witch Queen, and I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed her makeup and practical effects as the Queen. She looks like she is mostly tree, and really pulls off being threatening plant life with a spinal column headdress.
- Rena Owen plays Glaeser, the head of the witch council, who is in charge of imprisoning witches who break the law – or you know, show magic in public. She has an amazing outfit and a great witchy presence.
- Michael Caine plays Dolan the 36th, and basically he’s just Michael Caine. I suppose when you reach a certain point in a distinguished career, you don’t really have to stretch anymore. He’s great at portraying the end of a long friendship with Kaulder.
- Isaach De Bankole plays Max, the aforementioned butterfly-covered, maggot-cupcake bakery owning warlock. He’s blind, creepy, and weird, and super perfect for this movie.
Overall, the movie was strange, but fun. I liked all the effects, and found it to be a perfectly decent fantasy-action flick. But honestly, if you can spin Legion into SyFy’s Dominion, then I would really like them to find a way to make this into a series. I’m certain Diesel wants to franchise this, but I would recommend TV series.
6 out of 10; Gained points for the Witch Queen makeup and for Elijah Wood being a smartass. Lost points for the maggots in the cupcakes – ick.
Bonus Video 1: Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. I can’t really say if this was better or worse, what I can say is that I enjoyed it more.
Bonus Video 2: Season of the Witch – Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman overact their way through this enjoyable pile of crazy.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews;
Extra Bonus - just because: