If you’re anything like me, you saw the trailer for The Last Witch Hunter and thought, “Vin Diesel and Elijah Wood fighting witches? It’s about time!” It was a reasonable response, but alas, it is my sad duty to caution you: The Last Witch Hunter does not live up to its promise. Despite all the makings of a fun sci-fi action flick, in the end the film gets bogged down in its own lack of direction.
The basic premise of The Last Witch Hunter is pretty straightforward: 800 years ago, a warrior named Kaulder (Diesel) killed the witch queen, and in her final act, she cursed him with immortality. Fast forward to present day, where witches continue to live among us, but peacefully and secretly. When any of the witches step out of line, Kaulder, as the titular last witch hunter, gets involved. There are a few more complexities involving a dream-walking love interest (Rose Leslie) and an order of priests who hang around with Kaulder (including Wood and Michael Caine), but if you know the title, you’re pretty much caught up.
In a cinematic landscape of sequels, reboots, and adaptations, The Last Witch Hunter is an original work, but it’s one with a bit of an identity crisis. The film is part mystery, part horror, and part action, with a little bit of sentimentality and humor thrown in. It’s an ambitious effort that doesn’t quite succeed: in trying to weave together a variety of styles and genres, director Breck Eisner and his team of screenwriters manage only to present an aggressively average collection of pieces that don’t entirely fit.
The film would have better with more action (an admittedly uncommon problem in this day and age). True to his title, Kaulder spends a lot of time hunting witches, and not nearly enough time actually battling them. There’s a lot of detective work, creepy settings, and decisions about who to trust, which doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time for taking up fiery swords against evildoers. Fewer fight sequences also mean fewer special effects, which is a shame. The movie’s battle scenes are its strongest, not least because the effects are an impressive visual accomplishment.
The biggest problem with The Last Witch Hunter is probably the last witch hunter himself, Vin Diesel. Being a guy who knows his way around an action film, Diesel can pull off the battles with no problem. But Kaulder spends a significant amount of time in this movie being a sad widower or a pensive immortal, and Diesel doesn’t quite sell it. The emotion and depth he brought as a voice actor to Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Giant is disappointingly absent here.
By trying to be all things to all viewers, The Last Witch Hunter fails to lean in to its strength: the action sequences and the visual appeal of its special effects. Too much witch-hunting and not enough witch-fighting make a movie about Vin Diesel versus supernatural she-demons a shadow of what it could have been.