The Last Witch Hunter is a disappointment, but not terribly so. There are entertaining elements, just not enough to make the film worth recommending. The visual effects and the overall occult storyline had promise. But as in most things, it’s the execution of the idea that falls flat. The acting, particularly from lead Vin Diesel, is poor. His characters are all the same to me. I half expected a muscle car to tear through a scene with Dom from the Fast and Furious franchise at the helm.
The story begins in the dark ages with Kaulder (Vin Diesel) leading an expedition to find the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht). Voice over narration tells us that witches, and their magical blood, have existed alongside humans since the beginning. The Witch Queen creates the Black Death plague to wipe out man. Killing Kaulder’s beloved wife and daughter. His showdown with the Queen bestows immortality on Kaulder. Cursed to live forever, he allies himself with The Axe and Cross, a secret religious organization that upholds the truce between man and witches. They assign a priest, a dolan, to be Kaulder’s handler as he hunts derelict witches.
Eight hundred years later in present day New York City, the 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) is on the verge of retirement. Kaulder, when he’s not shagging flight attendants, has instilled fear and order in witches. But the peace shatters after a surprise attack by a fearsome witch. Kaulder, with an earnest but naïve new Dolan (Elijah Wood), investigates a conspiracy that threatens the world. The key to solving the mystery, a critical moment forgotten by Kaulder in his ancient battle with the Witch Queen.
The supernatural world depicted in The Last Witch Hunter is interesting. The production design, visual effects, and make-up successfully portray a dual society where the occult lies beneath every surface. Kaulder’s ability to heal, and his ass-kicking flaming sword, are pretty damn cool. It’s a bummer that director Breck Eisner couldn’t put together a more coherent film. The acting is weak with muddled, disjointed action scenes. Everything seems strung together with evil witches popping up periodically. Giving Kaulder and company something to do while they bumble their way to the climax.
Vin Diesel pulls off the tough guy act, but he badly needs depth and nuance to this performance. Kaulder is supposed to be lonely, anguished by the loss of his family, tormented to fight witches for eternity. The Last Witch Hunter uses flashbacks in a poor attempt to establish Kaulder’s despair. It doesn’t work. There’s nothing from Diesel that sells that part of the character. Maybe he felt that a special effects horror film didn’t need that level of intimacy to work. That’s a miscalculation because Kaulder needed to be more believable, especially as an immortal haunted by tragedy.
The Last Witch Hunter will only appeal to specific audiences. If you like Vin Diesel, action, and visual effects, then it passes as a popcorn film. Diehard horror and occult fans may initially go along with the plot, but then be disappointed by the acting and direction. The Last Witch Hunter sets itself up as the beginning of a franchise. If it’s a hit and a sequel green lighted, Diesel needs to add much more to Kaulder. I also think that the next film would be more effective with hard-R content, like the first Blade.