Main cast: Jeremy Renner (Hansel), Gemma Arterton (Gretel), Famke Janssen (Muriel), Pihla Viitala (Mina), Thomas Mann (Benjamin Walser), Derek Mears (Edward), Peter Stormare (Sheriff Berringer), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (The Horned Witch), Joanna Kulig (The Red-Haired Witch), and Rainer Bock (Mayor Englemann)
Director: Tommy Wirkola
What happens should Hansel and Gretel grow up to become witch hunters? Clad in sexy leather and armed with enough dakka to send every NRA member into a delighted swoon, they make their way around, killing witches for money as well as payback for their near-fatal brush with a witch during their childhood. Unlike the fairy tale, here their father led them into the woods for their own protection, and and our heroic sibling will discover the truth behind their parents and the night his father led them into the woods as they clash against the head witch Muriel in this movie.
If that sounds good, well… don’t get too excited. While Tommy Wirkola’s CV contains some darkly humorous horror films, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is made from the same formula as that which shaped Van Helsing and other fantasy flicks with a historical European flavor. The movie revels in anachronism, both in the main characters’ fashion sense and their mannerisms as well as speech patterns, the latter being jarringly twenty-first century. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, mind you, but at the same time, the crappy script also by Mr Wirkola drags the whole thing.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are fine as the titular characters, with Mr Renner playing the sibling who’s actually socially awkward (especially around women) and is held back by type 1 insulin that requires him to give himself an insulin jab at regular intervals and Ms Arterton playing the feisty sister who seems to be the smarter of the two as well. The two siblings are understandably very close, given their shared past trauma, although folks into Rule 34 may be disappointed that the movie wisely and thankfully shies away from hinting that these two are more than… well, siblings. Hansel is very protective of Gretel, but he isn’t always the most competent action hero around, while Gretel despite her smarts isn’t always the smartest or discreet action heroine in town. Hence, these two on paper complement one another very well.
Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, Hansel and Gretel can be cringe-inducing in how incompetent and dumb they can be to forward the plot. There are many moments when I would mark these two as amateurs as opposed to the hardened witch-slayers that the movie claims they are! It doesn’t help that the script relies heavily on coincidences and “Well, things happen just because!” rear end-pull twists, which reinforces this feeling that the main characters triumph more by chance and luck than by their skills and smarts.
Famke Jenssen is pretty good as the cruel and menacing Muriel, but the effect is marred by CGI that makes this character look more at home in a slightly scarier animated movie from Pixar or something. Indeed, the overall CGI in this movie can give me tonal whiplash. These effects make the non-human characters look like they have wandered off from the set of a kiddie fantasy flick, and that troll Edward is really adorable, but then these cute things start smashing heads into bloody pulps and what not, and I feel as if my childhood had been ripped to shreds. Perhaps this contrast between the appearance of the critters and their brutal action is a deliberate kind of subversion? Still, I never get the impression that this movie is anything but a straight rip action flick with the occasional scenes of gore, so if there were any subversion present here, I’m not feeling it.
Mind you, this movie is a pretty decent popcorn flick provided one doesn’t dwell too much on plot holes, convenient twists, clunky lines that try too hard to be edgy, and shallow characters, because it moves at a brisk pace and some of the gore is really fun. This movie doesn’t pretend to be going for deep thoughts or feels; it just wants people to be entertained and make lots of money in the process. With a stronger story, it just may very well succeed in doing that. As it is, well, save this one for rainy days or lazy afternoons.