Fantasy/Adventure/Action, 106 Minutes, 2015
I had the strongest sense of deja vu watching this. Not long ago I watched Seventh Son [My Review], another recent big-budget fantasy film. Both feature a resurgent witch queen and her evil plans, ancient curses and a new guy that needs to be taught the ropes. I talked about how Seventh Son was predictable and clichéd, but also charming, silly and fun. It wasn’t great, but it delivered what it promised.
The same review could be used here. Only a few names would be need to be changed.
Vin Diesel [IMDB], cursed with immortality by the dying witch queen, is the last witch hunter. (Reportedly the character is based on his personal Dungeons and Dragons campaign; pretty cool.) He’s the arbiter of an uneasy peace between the Vatican and the surviving witches, who have agreed to remain hidden in the modern world for… reasons.
His former handler of many years, Michael Caine [IMDB], has retired and his new handler, Elijah Wood [IMDB], is having trouble keeping up with the infamous hunter. When evidence arises that a group of rogue witches has resurrected their long dead queen, he seeks her out before she can release a plague of death on humanity. In doing so, he reluctantly teams up with a young witch, Rose Leslie [IMDB], and they learn that their differences may be only skin deep after all.
So, yeah, clichéd as all-get-out.
The film is slathered in the same overwrought CGI that’s taken over fantasy cinema. Magic is, apparently, about 90% procedural particle effects. The segments set in the past have some interesting design work and there are several visually impressive scenes of swarming insects. There’s little that really stands out, visually, but nothing embarrassing.
Diesel may not have a huge range, but what he does, he does very well. Leslie is intensely likable and gives a nicely layered performance despite the simplicity of her character. Caine and Wood create solid counterpoints to each other. The movie did suffer the lack of a strong villain as the witch queen isn’t allowed much of a personality or screen presence.
Like, Seventh Son, the movie seems to have a healthy understanding of itself. It takes itself just as seriously as it needs to and gives its talented cast the freedom to ham things up a bit. They all seem to be enjoying themselves which makes it difficult for the audience not to as well. It’s candy: easy and fun, but ultimately empty calories with no meat. Still, who doesn’t like candy?