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The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)

Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Julie Engelbrecht

Written By: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless Directed By: Breck Eisner

The Shot

A box office bomb that deserves better recognition than it got despite its imperfections, The Last Witch Hunter is a cool modern era fantasy action flick that’s worth the look for genre fans who know better than to expect the art house, and who can live with the knowledge that it should have been better.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GOUDA.

A solid choice, though one could do better.


Pairs Well With...

ABSINTHE.

Because why not?

“You know the benefit of eternal life? I get to kill you twice.”


Have you ever heard of the Blacklist?

No; I don’t mean the television show.  I mean the annual list of ‘best unproduced screenplays.’  Once upon a time, a screenplay for The Last Witch Hunter was on it.

Five years and some script revisions later, The Last Witch Hunter was getting chased out of cineplexes even before its first full week of release was over.

Whoops.

For my own part, I’m glad that I got to see The Last Witch Hunter on a big screen before it disappeared.  Because hey: it’s got flaming swords.  And spells.  And a gnarly Witch Queen.  And an ass whomping Vin Diesel.  In my book, that’s called “a fun way to escape the world for a hundred odd minutes.”

All right; so it’s got some issues, too – often bundled up with its strengths.

One of the coolest things about The Last Witch Hunter is that there’s obviously a gigantic bucket of lore behind the story we get to see on the screen, and the taste we get is very yummy indeed.  Unfortunately, despite having enough runtime to do some better-than-shallow diving into that lore (and especially into the backstories of the major players), the script and the film inexplicably hold off on anything not immediately necessary to the plot beyond a few very quickly delivered lines of dialogue.  The result is something much flatter than it should have been; perhaps counting on being but the first installment of a major franchise-to-be… which will now only happen if the international market coughs up around eighty million miracles.  Multiplying the error is the fact that this flatter, glossed-over storytelling doesn’t translate into a quicker pace for the film; the time not spent on storytelling or soaking up the often lovely production design is used for… I’m still not sure what, really.  Far too often, The Last Witch Hunter just bogs down, providing an easy excuse for anyone already predisposed to dismiss the film to do so.

It’s too bad, really, because while the sin of subpar direction is something that most hardcore genre fans have learned to accept and/or look beyond, for the casual crowd, it’s enough to relegate the movie to the back end of Netflix.

Meanwhile, the involvement of Vin Diesel with The Last Witch Hunter is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with his performance; indeed, it’s clear that this is a project that he is enthusiastic for and believes in.  However, unless this someone’s first encounter with the man’s work, it’s next to impossible to see the unique character of Kaulder behind the fact that this is Vin Diesel (or, perhaps, Richard Riddick), presenting the catch-22 of audience draw versus being drawn out of a story that needs to be immersive in order to be successful.  (Of course, given the already-noted suboptimal direction, I call in favor of “upside” here.)

What can’t be disputed, though, is the upside of Rose Leslie, who plays “good witch” Chloe.  Her performance is outstanding, and her screen presence does not shrivel in the face of the scene-vacuuming Vin Diesel.  Leslie takes an unfortunately underwritten character and fills her with the life and possibility that she deserves, presenting Chloe as someone the audience should want to see coming back for a series of sequels.  You want a highlight for the entire film?  I present for your consideration Rose Leslie.

And hot damn, that potion bar we first meet her in is beautiful, and an obvious hotbed of unspoken lore.  (You know, studio folks, if the box office disaster scares you off from making sequels with Mr. Diesel, that potion bar and Ms. Leslie have lots of prequel potential… Just saying….) Indeed, a lot of the production design of The Last Witch Hunter is beautiful, but again, the director just doesn’t take full advantage of it.  So much potential, so much awesome stuff that’s already right there…

…and the fact that so much of it is left on the shelf is why The Last Witch Hunter looks to have gone from one highly prestigious Blacklist to another, much less esteemed one.

Oh, well.  That’s what streaming services are for, right?

Bottom line, if you’re into tales of myth and magic tossed into modern settings, The Last Witch Hunter is definitely worth the look, never mind the shortcomings.  If, however, your interest is merely casual, it is, sadly, nothing you’ll regret passing by, though I suggest reconsidering when it hits the “no extra cost” side of the stream.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2015


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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