With the Harry Potter movies and the Game of Thrones on TV audiences should demand a certain quality from fantasy TV and Movies. Unfortunately we don’t always get it. Film critic Mark Kermode has described The Last Witch Hunter as Highlander light, it is probably a fair assessment. A film set largely in the modern day real world where the general public are blissfully unaware of a whole different world that exists below the surface, it is one of an increasingly common subgenre, urban fantasy. Think: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I Am Number Four, Underworld, or even the Twilight movies. Many if these are based on books, often of the young adult variety. The Last Witch Hunter is actually based on an original concept, if an original concept really still exists in Hollywood!
Vin Diesel plays Kaulder, an 800 year old immortal witch-hunter who brings rouge witches to justice to protect a delicate truce. After 800 years it is second nature to him until a plot unfolds to bring The Witch Queen back from the dead and destroy humanity.
The films gestation is confused and complicated and this shows on screen. The screenplay was featured on the 2010 “Blacklist”. It was picked up in 2012 with Timur Bekmambetov set to direct. The script was written by Cory Goodman. Bekmambetov left the project and was replaced by Breck Eisner whose back catalogue includes the underrated Sahara (2005) and the decent remake of The Crazies (2010). The script was then rewritten twice until we were left with three credited writers: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazam and Burk Sharpless. The reason I bring all this up is that there are a few moments that reminded me of one of the last really great movies within the genre, Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch.
Films like Night Watch give the glimmer of hope that the genre has potential to make quality movies and not derivative and predictable ones. The problem with The Last Witch Hunter is exactly this, it is derivative and predictable, all this seems to stem from the script. The story is made up of a series of set pieces that are linked together in a plot that is vaguely coherent but disjointed at best. In short the concept and the execution are sound they are just limited by the writing. The story seems to be intended as the start of a franchise, hopefully if this is the case future stories will be better. Ultimately the box-office and not critical reception will decide if the film is worthy of a sequel, and we must remember Diesel is part of three franchises (four if you include his voice work as Groot) including The Fast & Furious series, the most recent of which has grossed over $1.5billion to date. The star power of Vin Diesel even more important when you consider that he was largely responsible for getting the film made. A keen Dungeons and Dragons player, Diesel’s character was reported to be partly based on his old Dungeons and Dragons character, Melkor.
Occasionally a film breaks the mould and offers something extra within the genre, more often than not this is the result of writer directors who are invested in the story and not guns for hire. Auteurs like Guillermo del Toro and Timur Bekmambetov. I don’t think it is too much to ask for a few more quality movies in the genre but am also interested to see what has to offer considering the renaissance of horror, super hero and High fantasy.