‘The Last Witch Hunter’ has a crisis of identity

By Nate Taskin

Official "The Last Witch Hunter" Facebook Page
(Official “The Last Witch Hunter” Facebook Page)

“The Last Witch Hunter” just doesn’t know what it wants to be. At times, it styles itself as a tribute to the kitschy sword-and-sandal flicks of the 1980s, much in the vein of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Highlander.”

Other times, it seems to cater to young adult audiences with its modern revamps of classic fantasy tales. And just the same, it tries in vain to hide from its PG-13 rating with a forced grim, dark aesthetic. Here we have an identity crisis on a cinematic scale, and it makes for one disjointed slog of a film.

Carried into existence almost entirely on the back of its star, noted Dungeons and Dragons-enthusiast Vin Diesel, the film revolves around a famed warrior named Kaulder, cursed with immortality by an evil witch queen known as “The Witch Queen” (Julie Engelbrecht). Though he emerges victorious from their fierce battle, he is doomed to walk Earth forever.

Now in the modern day, with a lucrative career in the witch-killing business, Kaulder uncovers a sinister plot that threatens the alliance between witches and humans. With the ability to jump through the dream world and the real world, Kaulder begrudgingly teams up with his priest buddy (the perpetually baby-faced Elijah Wood) and a foxy yet friendly witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie). Together, they must uncover the secret behind this enchanted conspiracy, for the fate of the world rests in their hands.

If you thought based on that premise that this movie sounds like the best thing since roller coasters and apple juice, I couldn’t really blame you. It sounds like a synopsis that Meat Loaf might base his next album on. Except most of the time, the film injects itself with a tedious sense of self-seriousness that extinguishes any stray traces of fun left.

One scene involves a New York bakery that turns insects into cupcakes. Another has Kaulder save an airplane by rubbing two crystals together so that they create enough friction in order to change the weather. Kaulder even has a magical witch compass that he uses as a tracking device. This material is rife with glorious, schlocky potential, but it’s undercut by a bloated sense of weightiness.

If the film has a virtue, that virtue’s name is Vin Diesel. Though his character possesses the emotional nuance of a tree stump, Diesel makes up for it with a sense of conviction that makes him way too good for the movie’s script.

Diesel’s odd facial mix between stone-faced simplicity and brotherly geniality carries “The Fast and the Furious” franchise: a warm-hearted series whose artistic value cinephiles, I hope, will one day admit. His macho sensitivity displays an enormous amount of unrealized promise in the opening minutes of “The Last Witch Hunter,” with his beard, flaming sword, and medieval armor.

Though the actor may never again deliver a performance as powerful as his turn as the Iron Giant, he still occupies a movie whose cynical indifference does not deserve him.

A massive waste of potential, “The Last Witch Hunter” tries to appeal to too many people at once. It aims to please and forgets to ever cultivate an actual personality beyond a pained grunt here or there. If only “The Last Witch Hunter” could embrace its own closeted schlock value and crack a smile every now and then.

Rather than seethe with rage because of moral depravity or a gross lack of effort, I can muster only a dejected sigh when I think about this film. To feel angry about it would be a waste of time. No one feels any tangible amount of joy within “The Last Witch Hunter,” and no one feels any joy outside of it either.

Nate Taskin can be reached at [email protected]