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  Last Witch Hunter, The Coq Au Vin
Year: 2015
Director: Breck Eisner
Stars: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Rena Owen, Julie Engelbrecht, Joseph Gilgun, Isaach De Bankolé, Michael Halsey, Sloane Coombs, Lotte Verbeek, Dawn Olivieri, Inbar Lavi, Armani Jackson
Genre: Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Kaulder (Vin Diesel) was a witch hunter eight hundred years ago, but that proved to be his undoing when he set out with his band of allies to destroy the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) who had taken up residence in a huge tree while her black plague spread throughout the land, wiping out vast swathes of the population. Once they had arrived at her location, they were faced with many apparitions and evildoers, but managed to despatch them until Kaulder reached the heart of the tree where the Queen lay. He thought he had the upper hand, but as she expired she grabbed into his chest and gripped his heart, telling him he now had the curse of immortality to live eternity alone...

That's because we had already seen in the prologue that Kaulder had lost his wife and child to the supernatural shenanigans, but precisely what he did between the thirteenth century and the present of 2015 where much of this was set remained a subject glossed over by The Last Witch Hunter, yet another of those films which supposedly had terrific, too long unmade scripts but when they were adapted it turned out they had little appeal to general audiences and flopped. It was another blow for Vin Diesel, a commanding presence who nonetheless had difficulty making hits away from his Fast & Furious franchise, with his Riddick sequels not exactly setting the world on fire either.

Was this all that bad, though? Could we discern what made that Cory Gosman's script so admired when it was in its initial draft? Probably not, for as with many scripts for would-be blockbusters it was extensively rewritten, supposedly to tailor it better to the star whose avowed appreciation of playing Dungeons & Dragons was apparently behind a lot of his characterisation and the plot to boot. That's all very well, but you just had to look at the official Dungeons & Dragons movie of about fifteen years before to see how easy it was to make a pig's ear of such material that very much depended on following the rules of a game that is invented as it progresses rather than having a fixed narrative for a film to capitalise on.

It hardly mattered, as The Last Witch Hunter was so yoked to the possibilities of computer graphics that any medieval authenticity was even absent in the opening medieval scenes and flashbacks, and Diesel came across like a wry he-man who might as well have been a cop with a flaming sword for all the concessions to his intended character history could have been. Kaulder presumably has been putting witches in their place for centuries, but now it seems someone wants to reanimate the Queen Witch and he is the man to stop it, along with Catholic church representative Michael Caine (about as much use as Judi Dench was in the second Riddick instalment) and religious sidekick Elijah Wood. It had all the spiritual heft of a TV episode where the detective had to recapture a crim who had skipped bail.

Just in case we thought, wait a minute, back when there were real witch hunts it wasn't the strongarm tactics of those like Kaulder who were the good guys, it was the poor victims of aggressive scapegoating in small communities that saw a great number of deaths of innocents, there was a nice witch included in the shape of Rose Leslie as Chloe, who becomes another sidekick to Kaulder when he sees that witches aren't all bad, not that the executed folks all those years ago were witches anyway. And in fact blameless victims are still murdered for supposedly practicing dark arts to this day in some parts of the globe, so Chloe had a lot to prove. As it was, what followed were empty setpieces which were heavy on the special effects and self-importance yet light on any resonance or anything to make most viewers care very much, any genuine arcane or holy trappings merely a pose. It just sort of happened, things were resolved, a sequel was hinted at (good luck with that) then the credits were rolling under a bad cover version and you were faced with contemplating what you should have watched instead. Music by Steve Jablonsky.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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