Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

Not my plan for Sunday, but the public transportation chain I was counting on to get to Revere and Ladrones (even if I hadn't been curious about that, when a niche film hangs around for a third week, you owe it to yourself to see what's up if you've got a broad interest in movies)... Well, something didn't click, and this was the option that made the most sense.

Time-wise, I mean; I suppose there was something else I could have seen, but I was one stop away on the Orange Line and this was the most convenient thing I hadn't seen; that it didn't have a review on EFC gave it a little push as well. As always, "next thing playing" is seldom the best way to choose which movie to see.

Anyway, did anyone else find themselves thinking that we just saw I, Frankenstein a year and a half ago and that it was the same thing? I had about the same reaction to them, too - it was pretty easy to see where these things could have been fun, given a good villain and a little time to shake things out, but movies aren't like TV series in that they get the leeway to work the kinks out, no matter how much it sometimes seems the action/adventure part of the business wants to have that kind of episodic structure.

The Last Witch Hunter

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2015 in AMC Assembly Row #6 (first-run, DCP)

That The Last Witch Hunter didn't particularly impress on its first weekend at the box office may not mean anything for its long-term prospects; look at how many sequels to Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious that Vin Diesel has done without those necessarily being huge hits initially. The irony is, those were modest, basically self-contained productions where this is a big and expensive thing that plays like a TV pilot, and it's not always the thing designed to hook people long-term that actually does.

This starts with not one, but two, sequences meant to build up the film's world: The first takes place eight hundred years in the past, when a group of burly warriors look to kill the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) who has unleashed the Black Plague, with Kaulder (Diesel) managing it but being cursed with her immortality as an act of revenge. In the present, he's handling it pretty well, spotting a young witch who has handled some objects of great power carelessly on a plane and nearly brings it down. Kaulder doesn't execute witches these days, though - there's a truce that allows for imprisonment for those who use their powers to harm humans, administered on the human side by the Ax & Cross, a secret wing of the Catholic Church (or I suppose they could be Episcopalian). A priest taking the name "Dolan" chronicles Kaulder's deeds, although the 36th (Michael Caine) is retiring after fifty years in favor of a younger man (Elijah Wood). Magical foul play prevents old Dolan from enjoying his retirement, and with the clues to what is afoot apparently being locked in Kaulder's mind, he enlists Chloe (Rose Leslie), a young witch who specializes in memory potions.

A generation ago, movies like this weren't nearly so elaborate in construction, and that's not just because producers are looking for something that can handle half a dozen sequels without being stretched and distorted away from its original appeal; the audience that wants and expects details is no longer a niche but the mainstream. The filmmakers don't do a bad job of world-building at all, and not just because they've got a Michael Caine voiceover on tap for early moments when a little straight-up exposition is necessary. The writers find the important balance between building a setting which feels open rather than purpose-built on the one hand and not introducing too many things that won't actually be useful on the other. As this sort of modern fantasy goes, it's fairly well-constructed and the story is surprisingly tight.

Full review on EFC.

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