If nothing else, give The Last Witch Hunter credit for one thing: it doesn't attempt, yet again, to concoct a period horror piece draped in drippy surroundings, Viking beards, and really heavy-handed themes about God and faith (which were a lot more relevant back then, being that there were only about thirty people on the entire planet, and 28 of them believed in God). Filmmaker Christopher Smith has already had the first and ultimate word on the subject with his excellent and criminally overlooked Black Death, but then a major studio felt we needed a cheap imitation, and so they made their own version with Nicolas Cage. (It was Season of the Witch. It sucked.) Though The Last Witch Hunter may lack in most areas, at least the writers and director Breck Eisner had the idea to fast-forward the plot after its plague-era opening into modern times. It's a silly concept, made sillier by seeing how it actually plays out, but if a film is going to be mediocre, at least it can do so in the streets of New York and not slimy caves or muddy swamps where the audience has no choice but to be depressed and underwhelmed.
The Last Witch Hunter plays out in a very post-Supernatural world, making sure to include small batches of people working toward the cause of eradicating a supernatural threat (in this case, witches), along with the idea that witches just kind of hang out with each other in dusty New York lofts, so taking them out in large chunks at a time is pretty easy. Runes, sigils, finely dressed monster hunters, and a horde of CGI is on-hand to invoke the endless debacle of the Winchester Brothers, only this time it's not a decade-running horror series that actually started off excellently and then began running out of ideas halfway through, but a bloated feature film that pretty much didn't know what to do right from the start. In a film called The Last Witch Hunter, the titular hero hunts exactly one witch...twice. He may be the last, but he certainly ain't the best.
Vin Diesel isn't an actor so much as he is a performer. He is frequently cast because studios and/or directors want their audience to just know what kind of experience to anticipate before they ever see a single trailer or production still. Diesel, who hasn't given anything resembling a performance since 2006's Find Me Guilty, has skirted by all this time on his admittedly physically intimidating appearance despite the fact that he kinda/sorta looks like a giant cartoon baby -- a giant cartoon baby that, for sure, could rip my head off and throw it behind his over-sized crib. But intimidation can only get you so far. Predictable and similar critiques have been thrown at guys like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme over the years, but at least they had the foresight to embrace the why of their popularity and show signs of life every so often. Lack of acting abilities could be reasonably counteracted by charisma. Vin Diesel has not gotten this memo. He recites his dialogue like an idling engine, and if his face moves, that means he's trying to emote. He's infinitely more interested in twirling his head-smashing weapons behind him as they make that whoosh sound so his prey knows he's really, really good at head-smashing. Fill the screen with all the bodily mayhem and CGI you want, but if your hero is boring, then your movie is boring. That's movie science.
The supporting cast of Michael Caine (I'm still trying to figure out that one), Elijah Wood (Maniac), and the beautiful Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones; last night's dreams) threaten to offer much needed variety to the plot, but everyone's roles unfold with such telegraphed predictability that there's nothing left for them to do besides go through the motions: Caine looks sad and old, and says things sadly and oldly; Wood looks wide-eyed, precocious, and dorky; and Rose Leslie, well... The Last Witch Hunter's running time would've been better spent with her reading aloud from the script while every so often pushing a stray hair behind her ear and looking directly into the camera -- all while knowing she was looking only at me.
Director Breck Eisner hasn't exactly hit any of his films out of the park, as he's released one slice of studio tentpole escapism after another that have resulted neither in critical favoring nor box office success (although I unashamedly enjoy his redux of The Crazies). While he is capable of some decent directorial flare (again, I'm talking about The Crazies), The Last Witch Hunter drowns in so much CGI that it's hard to see what's going on around it. The buzzing flies and the smoky vapors and the screaming witch faces and the fire and the oh my lord it's all just so exhausting. The combination of Vin Diesel, Breck Eisner, and PG-13 monster violence was likely never going to result in a modern classic, but it could've at least made for 100 minutes of reasonable entertainment that, when it was over, didn't make you think, "I don't even remember what happened." Maybe it was black magic.
The Last Witch Hunter isn't Vin Diesel's worst movie, but it's not up there anywhere close to his best. If you're a fan of goth chic/GQ wardrobes, witches, and Vin Diesel smiling every half hour, The Last Witch Hunter has come to bewitch you.
"You're a witch!"
"You're a witch!"