John’s Horror Corner: The Last Witch Hunter (2015), the story of an immortal Vin Diesel hacking his way through monsters and spells with bad one-liners and a flaming sword.
Following the Blade (1998)/Underworld (2003) playbook, Highlander (1986) meets Constantine (2005) as our hero Kaulder (Vin Diesel; Furious 7, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) suffers the Van Helsing curse to hunt criminal witches across the centuries. Vin Diesel’s immortal has gained no more wisdom or savoir-faire in his centuries of experience than Dominic Torreto has in his seemingly unending supply of heist movies. They’re basically the same coarse unkillable character, only one of them is a several hundred-year-old, flaming sword swinging hunter of the Dark Arts afflicted with a curse (eye roll!) of eternal life whereas Dom graduated from living life a quarter-mile at a time to $100 million dollar jobs across the globe.
They say Vin made this movie to erect a world around his love for Dungeons and Dragons and I’d say, as a major D&D enthusiast, he succeeded. The world-building may not be as refined as the program-infested The Matrix (1999), the enchanted academia of Harry Potter (2001), Avatar‘s (2009) xenoscape or John Wick‘s (2014) underground assassin society, but he laid down an ambitiously solid franchise foundation. Now I could write thousands of words making fun of this movie–poking holes in the story and pointing out things I think are silly or bit dumb…or very dumb. But at the end of the day, I really enjoyed it! Hell, I think I want more of these. Let the academics be critical and scoff, but I love Vin’s franchises (Fast and Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick and maaaaybe even xXx, which is getting another sequel).
Parts of this movie feel like they’re straight out of an old adventure module.
This flick features an awesome diversity of witches, spells and magical items…down to flaming swords, the witch queen’s (Julie Engelbrecht) lair in a giant Game of Thrones tree, and even a Gummi Bear illusion reminding me of Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (2013).
For real, it’s like the Game of Thrones tree got infested with bark beetles and died.
But what keeps us from slipping off into the deep end is Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises). He plays his 36th Dolan, a watcher, confession receiver, advisor and record keeper to Kaulder. He is the humanity and soul of the film whereas Vin is more of the film’s flexed, sweat-glistening bicep. He is replaced by an eager-to-please Elijah Wood (Cooties), who is the Shia LeBouf to Keanu’s Constantine.
Caine dies but his apparently natural death was concealed by the darkest magic imaginable–“darker than evil.” Cue more eye-rolling. Phrases like “darker than evil” and constantly hearing Vin Diesel use the word “magic” verge on comical. Vin travels the world using pick-up lines honed over centuries on dim-witted flight attendants between Dungeons and Dragons missions to recover ancient artifacts. He even keeps a treasure horde in a secret vault like a high-level character in his chic NYC penthouse, afforded from centuries of saving up (I guess). It’s all very silly, even stupid, but there’s just something about this urban fantasy that appeals to me.
The witch queen resurrection!
In this world witches live among us in secret and, according to “the truce,” they cannot use magic on humans. Kaulder is the peace keeper, the Judge Dredd. And like John Constantine (2005), he keeps the balance and employs arcane boy scout tricks to detect magic. Oh, and his new girlfriend Chloe’s (Rose Leslie; Game of Thrones) bar is akin to Midnight’s hangout.
He also explains things a lot, simple things and obscure notions alike. I would have preferred more subtlety, but every time I roll my eyes it’s accompanied by a smile. Is all this blunt exposition perhaps deliberate? Well, let’s just say he actually makes reference to “a 14th level Warlock.” A classic D&D bazinga!
Have I compared this to Constantine enough yet? Probably not. Well Balthazar (aka Belial, a devil in the Monster Manual) is the bad guy, as was Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) the baddie in Constantine.
No reason to be annoyed, though. Fun diversions come in all form of plague trees, magic potions, high councils, plague flies (crawling under the skin–yes, like Constantine), a monstrous sentinel (like a Bone Golem)…everything a Dungeons and Dragons dork could want. Except for maybe a dragon–they’ll save that for the sequel. And boy did they set us up for a guaranteed sequel.
This film does not deliver an original story–not even close. But the magical and monstrous visuals are a popcorn spectacle to be celebrated and our new gruff hero is familiar in all the ways we seem to enjoy seeing over and over again. Even if we’re not going to dole out Oscars at it, this flick is worth seeing, renting, even owning if you’re a Vin Diesel fan. And if you’re not, then you should’ve known better than to watch this.
If you decide not to be critical, then this will happily bring out the nostalgic geek in you.