I wouldn’t necessarily categorize myself as a Vin Diesel fan, but I certainly see the appeal. He’s not a particularly adept or skilled performer but he possesses a charm and almost undefinable quality that makes him an enjoyable action star. He’s like the 21st century Sylvester Stallone. It’s good that his aura of personality is around to bolster The Last Witch Hunter, because it’s about the only thing the movie has going for it.
Directed by Breck Eisner (The Crazies, Sahara) from a script by Cory Goodman (Priest, Underworld: Next Generation), Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold, Gods of Egypt) and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, Gods of Egypt), The Last Witch Hunter tells the uninteresting and plot hole ridden story of Kaulder (Diesel; Fast and Furious, The Chronicles of Riddick) who, as you’ve probably guessed, is the last surviving witch hunter. Cursed with immortality after defeating the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht; The Strain, 45 Minutes to Ramallah) 800 years ago, Kaulder works with The Axe and Cross, a group that maintains a truce between humans and witches following a vaguely referenced war. Hidden from regular people, witches are all around us with only a select few humans still in on the secret.
One of these is the Dolan, a sort of handler assigned to Kaulder to assign him missions, provide technical support and report back to The Axe and Cross. When Kaulder’s 36th Dolan is murdered, the witch hunter tries to hunt down his killer, assisted by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), but quickly uncovers a dark and dangerous conspiracy that threatens to end the truce and send the world to magical war.
This is such a dull movie. There’s not an original thought in its head, and it plods along without much in the way of pacing, suspense, or really anything interesting to keep the audience engaged. The script is overly wordy, telling and not showing for far too much of the time. It struggles a great deal to give the world it’s trying to create a personality or history, and as a result the hidden witch underground feels very small. There’s the Witch Council of The Axe and Cross and a witch nightclub, as well as the odd criminal but that’s all the movie bothers to show us. “Oh, but they’re everywhere,” it reassures us constantly. “And bad stuff will happen if Vin Diesel doesn’t save the day.” Simply telling us of this world isn’t enough, you have to show it and the film fails utterly in that respect.
Likewise, it struggles to set up the secret history and lore of the witches, handwaving away the Witch-Human War in a few sentences and hoping the audience won’t think too hard about the story, lest its various plot holes break the whole thing apart. Worse still are its characters, all of whom are drawn with the broadest brush imaginable. There’s no reason to care about them, no reason to sympathise with them.
Sure, Kaulder is given a tragic backstory about how his wife and child died of the Black Plague but why should the audience be broken up over it when the film doesn’t bother to establish them as characters? The film doesn’t seem to understand that it needs to do more to make us care about them than show a few out of focus flashbacks.
The ending makes no sense, actively going against logic at some points and the whole third act seems overly concerned with leaving room for a sequel that, God willing, will never happen. When it finally does decide to wrap things up it’s in one of the most baffling underwhelming ways imaginable and it all concludes with a scene that all but begs you to let them make a franchise out the film.
Diesel and Wood are totally unable to make the clunky, ill-formed dialogue sound like things actual people would say and two-time Academy Award winner Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) fares little better. Caine plays the same character in every movie now, a walking expository device, and he just seems tired, as if he doesn’t care enough to try. Considering the film’s quality I don’t much blame him, and his character is perhaps the most poorly written of the bunch.
The only actor who manages to inject their character with some small spark of personality is Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, Honeymoon), who carries much of the film on her shoulders. Her line delivery and charisma supports the film’s quitter moments, in the same way Diesel’s physicality supports the action.
This is a generic film that fails in virtually everything it attempts. A generally talented cast is held back by the script and while the movie desperately tries to establish itself as a viable franchise starter, it ends up almost totally devoid of personality. Perhaps if the filmmakers had spent more time planning this movie than planning a hypothetical series, it may have actually been a worthwhile endeavor, but as it stands I see absolutely no reason for anyone to watch this.