Despite an esteemed career that includes two Academy Awards, Michael Caine has been involved with the occasional stinker (Jaws: The Revenge anybody?), but it is very difficult to fathom just why, on the back of recent performances in the likes of The Dark Knight, Interstellar and Youth, he would get involved with this hot mess, other than the lure of an easy pay day. Caine plays Dolan 36th, a priest who serves as the trusty confidante and advisor to Vin Diesel’s Kaulder, a 400-year-old witch hunter single-handedly responsible for maintaining the peace between witches and humans. Diesel brings neither energy nor charisma to this somewhat convoluted tale that is light on thrills and rendered unintentionally comedic by a screenplay that is filled with leaden, laughable dialogue and a general premise that lacks any kind of logic. It is easy enough to blame Diesel for this misfire because, let’s face it, he has hardly proven himself an actor of any real substance, but everybody involved here must take some responsibility for what has transpired. It is hard to pinpoint how it all went so wrong, but The Last Witch Hunter is inglorious in both concept and execution.
It is never fun to take aim at a movie because you know that a lot of people have put a lot of work into it, but it is very difficult to find much to recommend The Last Witch Hunter, which opens with Diesel – resplendent with ludicrous beard – leading a band of fellow 14th-century hipsters into a battle against the Queen Witch that, believe it or not, takes place inside a giant tree. Upon slaying her evil highness, Kaulder is cursed (or blessed perhaps) with immortality. Alas, in modern day New York, the queen is resurrected, Dolan 36’s life is on the line and Kaulder has to do it all over again. Of course there is a girl in the mix, a feisty witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones) who overcomes her disdain for Kaulder (of course) to join forces with him. If it sounds silly, that’s because it is. Diesel only has one expression throughout the whole movie so it is impossible to know exactly what his emotional state might be and, quite frankly, it is hard to care. The action sequences lack any real tension and the two clashes between Kaulder and the Witch Queen are over in very quick time.
There are attempts to develop audience empathy with Kaulder though flashbacks of his time with his family, who were slain by the dark forces prior to his first showdown with the queen, but that was some 400 years ago, so he has had plenty of time to get over it and move on. It’s all just so silly that there were plenty of sniggers amongst the audience in the screening I attended and none of these were at moments where there seemed any conscious attempt at humour. As Dolan 37, brought in as a replacement when it seemed as though 36 was not long for this world, Elijah Wood looks utterly confused by it all and must surely be wishing he was safely back in Middle Earth. In fact, part of the problem with The Last Witch Hunter is that everybody takes it so seriously when the sheer preposterousness of it all requires some levity. Caine does try, but not even he is capable of turning this into something remotely engaging.
Leslie is perhaps the best of the players here, no doubt desperate to try and make some kind of presence in her Hollywood feature debut. Directed by Breck Eisner and shot by Oscar-winning Aussie cinematographer Dean Semler, The Last Witch Hunter is an expensive (upwards of $90 million) exercise in mediocrity that leads one to ponder how films like this come to be so utterly uninspiring. Then again, if, as some reports have suggested, Kaulder is partly based on an entity created by Diesel as a Dungeons & Dragons character (apparently, he is an avid D&D player), perhaps that explains it all.