Words by: Jack Dawson
The Last Witch Hunter is not a very good film, but it is a fun one. That’s the only real defence I can offer for seeing it, and I can’t honestly call this film one of the best I’ve seen this year. Mind you it’s certainly not the worst, I didn’t feel insulted or bored or assaulted as I have while watching other films throughout this year. So if I recommended this to anyone, I’d say that if you have time and money on your hands and you don’t mind sitting through ninety minutes of decently paced action and cookie cutter screenplay, then you could certainly do worse.
Centuries ago at the outbreak of the Black Plague, a man named Kaulder and his friends decided to stop the Black Plague at its source, the Plague Tree of the Witch Queen. After some unpleasantness, Kaulder is cursed with Immortality (which seems less and less like a curse the more I think about it), and he uses this new ability to hunt more evil witches and gradually bring about a truce between Witches and Humanity. That peace is tested to the breaking point in the modern-day however, where the murder of a good friend and some extremist factions within the Witches threaten to bring about cataclysm to the world that Kaulder has fought so hard for. And as the film progresses, the audience is forced to ask a question that has far-reaching implications of this film and its ideas:
Is there any tension in a film where the hero is immortal?
It’s probably best at this point to get what works about the film out of the way quickly. First of all, the art design is actually pretty decent. CGI has progressed to the point where it can be done reasonably well on a budget, and even the effects that don’t work are elevated by the imagination and detail that inform their execution. I particularly like the way that magic is visualized in the film, there’s a lot of hard work and effort put into these details which shows that this was made with sincere affection and ambition on the part of the film makers.
It’s also fun to see a film dedicated to the aesthetics and minutiae of Urban Fantasy, any film that shows me a Magic Pub which looks plausible and interesting is worth watching in my book. And as much as I’m about to tear the plot apart, I should note that there is a twist towards the end of the film that I did not see coming, and which fulfils all the requirements for an effective twist (surprising, changes the story, feels inevitable in retrospect).
But I did open up this review by stating that the film was bad, so let’s pick this part, shall we?
The biggest problem is Kaulder. He’s an invincible character who always has a knowing quip on hand and who is hyper competent at anything he attempts. Everyone likes him and re-orients their lives to orbit around his, and he’s repeatedly stated to be the only one who can save the world. Now if this sounds like a terrible character, then you’d be half right. In a film, Kaulder is a terrible character, but he’d be a pretty decent character in a Tabletop or Video game.
In fact, that’s what he was. Kaulder began life as ‘Melkor’ (Which Vin Diesel admits was ripped off from Lord of the Rings), a tabletop character who was also a Witch Hunter. Now in a game where you see firsthand what a character has to do in order to get anywhere or fight an enemy, an eternally perfect and impressive character is okay, ideal even. If the player has invested time and effort into the gameplay, then seeing their character solve every problem before them and win the adoration of everyone around them feels like a just reward.
This is not the case here. Kaulder is boring, a tired character type we’ve seen in dozens of other films and games before. Vin Diesel is at least watchable in the role, and there are worse characters around, but it’s just not enough to sustain a film.
And when the rest of the film is populated with two-dimensional characters, rote world-building that doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen a thousand times before, and dramatic beats that rely on our investment in the uninteresting main character that we just talked about?
You get a pretty bad film.
At the end of the day, I’m inclined to be generous to The Last Witch Hunter. Objectively I know it’s quite terrible, a trashy B-movie with a lacklustre script and dull characters. But it’s hard to be angry at something that was made with love and enthusiasm. Kaulder might be a Tabletop character transplanted into a film, but he’s still Vin Diesel’s character, and even if the audience doesn’t much care one way or the other, it’s obvious that Vin does. Plus, if you’re big on Urban Fantasy or need something to occupy yourself with before ‘Release-everything-you-can-before-Star-Wars-devours-us’ season begins, I can think of worse films to see.