After the death of his wife and child, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) joins other 13th century witch hunters in the search for the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) responsible for the plague that killed their families. Within a massive tree, Kaulder finds the Witch Queen and runs her through with his burning sword; however, before she dies she curses Kaulder with immortality. Eight-hundred years later there’s a truce between the priests that oversee Kaulder as the last witch hunter and witches. As long as they don’t practice magic on humans they won’t be hunted, tried before a council and locked up in a prison below the church. The priest that works directly with the witch hunter is called a Dolan. He acts as a guide, confessor and scribe writing down all of the hunter’s adventures. The 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) is retiring and will be replaced by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood). On his last night the 36th Dolan dies in his apartment, apparently of natural causes; but Kaulder is suspicious. Looking for the signs of magic, Kaulder finds the elder Dolan was put under a spell that mimics death and was tortured for information. He left clues behind telling the witch hunter to relive his death inside that tree. Needing a potion to help him remember what happened right after the death of the Witch Queen, Kaulder seeks the aid of a young witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie) at a bar that is exclusively for witches. Chloe creates the potion but Kaulder is attacked by a powerful witch named Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson) trying to stop him. Strange and dangerous forces are trying to keep Kaulder from seeing what happened after the Witch Queen cursed him. The question is why?
With a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-teens I was surprised I enjoyed the first half or so of “The Last Witch Hunter.” The writers of the film had created an interesting world largely populated with unique characters doing strange and fanciful things. Had it continued that way I might have been one of the movie’s loudest supporters. As it is, I’m lukewarm on the latest Vin Diesel project because it trades in imagination for generic action thrills.
Diesel actually manages something akin to warmth in parts of the film. He has a brief interaction on a plane with a child and shows a bit of charm. His scenes with Rose Leslie don’t devolve into an uncomfortable romance as I was afraid it might but the pair has a rough chemistry that serves the story. The father/son relationship between Diesel and Michael Caine felt a bit forced but still managed to seem like a friendship that had been around for a while. Elijah Wood is under used in his role so he and Diesel’s characters never feel like they are really partners. Perhaps that was the goal. No one in the movie does a bad job in their role. Sadly, they aren’t given that much to work with.
The film is let down by a third act that is just scaffolding to get to the action/sfx scenes. We get a few brief glimpses at what Kaulder has lost at the hands of the Witch Queen and the events in that third act contradict what we’ve seen before. I’m trying to avoid giving away too many plot details; but the story kind of reverses itself in a blatant attempt to create a need for a sequel. With opening weekend domestic box office of less than $11-million, that seems unlikely.
“The Last Witch Hunter” is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. We see people stabbed with swords and knives. There are a few large, ugly creatures. The Witch Queen will be scary for the very youngest viewers. A character is impaled on a spike through the shoulder. A character is consumed by vines at the base of a tree. A character is shown ripping their skin off to reveal a different creature inside. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.
The world of “The Last Witch Hunter” could have been fascinating if the vision of the writers early in their script has been carried through to the end. As it is, the movie becomes a predictable action/fantasy with some decent visuals but is nothing special. I wish it had been the kind of film that put a spell on me but alas, it’s all just a cheap trick.