The Last Witch Hunter

Certificate 12A, 106 minutes

Director: Breck Eisner

Stars: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood

The Last Witch Hunter opens with a troop of men wearing armour and armed with axes and swords making their way through a snowy wilderness, led by one who appears to be a priest. The men are heading for a huge tree, many times the size of a normal one, which is the home of the strange and rather inhuman-looking Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht), who released the Black Plague (possibly the Black Death) across the land, wherever it is. The men have lost their loved ones to the plague, and have nothing left to lose. The Witch Queen wants to destroy humanity. Inside the tree, many of the men fall, but one, Kaulder (Vin Diesel), manages to strike the Witch Queen down, defeating her. Before she dies, the queen curses Kaulder, saying that he will never die.

The Last Witch HunterCredit: hundred years later, in modern New York City, and Kaulder is the Witch Hunter, who works for a religious order, the Axe and Cross, hunting down witches. He has also managed to adapt surprisingly well to the modern world and technology. Not only is he immortal, his wounds also heal quickly, in a matter of seconds, making it impossible to kill him. Witches apparently have the blood of another race in their veins (as the Witch Queen earlier claims that the world belongs to her people, not to humanity), one that has presumably bred with humanity at some point, and this is what gives them their magic. They are both male and female, and a rather uneasy truce exists between humanity and the Witch Council, but tot every witch desires peace. Kaulder helps to enforce this, bringing in renegade witches to the council for judgement, rather than killing them.

Kaulder is assisted by Dolan (Michael Caine), the 36th to bear the name, who chronicles Kaulder's actions for the Axe and Cross (who would seem to provide money, documents and equipment for Kaulder), and gives other support as well, being Kaulder's friend. The 36th Dolan is now retiring, as he has been serving for decades and is not immortal, with his place to be taken by the, much younger, 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). The Dolans are religious men who are part of the Axe and Cross; both are addressed as Father. When the 36th Dolan dies of natural causes on the night he retired, Kaulder finds this more than a little suspicious - and so he should, for another witch, Belial (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, A Walk Among the Tombstones), wants to bring back the Witch Queen, who is not truly dead, so that she can bring another plague and wipe the Earth clean of humanity, and he had a role in Dolan the 36th's death.

Before he died, the 36th Dolan had left a message for Kaulder. In order to make sense of this message, Kaulder needs the help of a witch, Chloe (Rose Leslie), who is a dreamwalker, in order to enter his dreams and find out the information he needs that is hidden in his past. Kaulder is not that happy to be working with a witch, and Chloe is certainly not happy to be working with the Witch Hunter, who is the bogeyman of the witch world - and that was before her bar got burned down.

The witches are quite powerful, and it seems that Kaulder is the only person - the Axe and Cross refer to him as a "weapon" - capable of stopping them, as they have magic and no-one else does. Admittedly, an immortal, foe who cannot be killed is difficult to eliminate to say the least, but there are a lot of witches, so quite why most of them are so kept down is a little uncertain. Some of it is internal - most witches seem to want to coexist with humanity, and the Witch Council enforces this - and other witches do have the power to stop each other.

Sometimes careful attention needs to be paid to what's going on, as the switching between reality, memories and dreams can be a bit confusing if enough attention isn't being paid to it, especially as there is magic in all of these states. Interestingly, the film was influenced by Vin Diesel's Dungeons & Dragons witch hunter character - Vin Diesel being a big D&D game player. An initial impression can be gained that the film either has been inspired by a graphic novel (it hasn't) or that it is, for those who are familiar with such, a bit like a D&D or other role playing game.

This is the sort of film that does exactly what it says on the tin. Vin Diesel does what he does best - delivers plenty of action in it, as he attacks foes with a variety of weapons, including a flaming sword of all things - and there is an element of humour, which is mostly in the form of one-liners delivered in Vin Diesel's gravelly voice. The film looks good, with lots of nice special effects and one truly ugly and disturbing looking creature. Chloe, Rose Leslie's character, has the potential to be annoying, but generally doesn't seem to cross it fortunately. Other than Kaulder and Chloe, the roles of most of the other characters is quite small, even that of the two main foes encountered, the Witch Queen and Belial - Belial in particular having very little in the way of screen time - with probably the best performance coming from the experienced Michael Caine, although his part is fairly small.

Could there be a sequel? Well, there's nothing definitely stated in the film, but there's a suggestion that there are other monsters Kaulder could fight, so, if the film is successful enough, a sequel is certainly a possibility, and it is something being considered. The Last Witch Hunter is an enjoyable enough fantasy action romp, but it lacks that extra something to push it over into being truly excellent.

The Last Witch Hunter egdcltd 2015-10-22 3.5 0 5