Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters is a movie a bit unsure of its identity.
At times it wants to be this snarky take on fairy tale characters with a modern twist. Then it’s this comically violent film so absurd you’ll wonder if you’re supposed to be laughing. Then occasionally, you’ll find a brainless, but fun, buddy action film with decent, if unremarkable fight scenes.
Somewhere in the midst of all this is probably an exhilarating movie you don’t need to take too serious to enjoy, but the frequent shifts in tone make it hard to do more than count the numerous ways it could have been improved.
At least the leads are well cast. Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy) and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) play the adult versions of the siblings who have dedicated their lives to killing witches after their traumatic childhood encounter.
After a series of children are kidnapped by witches, Hansel and Gretel are called in to find them and kill their captors. Hansel and Gretel quickly get on the bad side of the town’s sheriff, Berringer (Peter Stormare, The Last Stand), who wants the glory of killing the witches himself; meet their biggest fan, Ben (Thomas Mann) and befriend a beautiful loner, Mina (Pihla Viitala).
Hansel and Gretel’s arrival comes just as the evil witch, Muriel, (Famke Janssen) has nearly assembled all the pieces she needs for a spell that will make all witches immortal.
This easily marks the highest profile film for director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola, who previously handled the 2009 horror/comedy Dead Snow, where medical students took on Nazi zombies so clearly the guy has a unique perspective on filmmaking.
Wirkola teams with newcomer Dante Harper on the script and they don’t have a clear vision for the film’s tone so the characters are inconsistently portrayed from one scene to the next. They write Hansel and Gretel so edgy that they’re unlikable. Renner and Arterton, who have been a lot more fun in other films, can only do so much with this script.
Wirkola is also inconsistent when shooting the action scenes. For every segment that clearly shows what’s going on, there’s another where the camerawork is so disorienting you can only guess what happened based on who gets knocked to the floor. Wirkola did make sure that those paying for the 3D version of the film aren’t wasting their money as the effects are solid throughout with a few random objects “coming out” of the screen and blood splatters frequently flying around.
The film is Tarantino-esque violent. I counted at least 10 heads that get squished, punched in or shot off in cartoonish fashion. And not that satisfying kind of violence that just makes the heroes look like the baddest bounty hunters ever, just dumb Wil E. Coyote or Elmer Fudd type silliness just with actual consequences.
When in doubt, Wirkola always opts for the most extreme way to kill off a character, but with none of the tongue-in-cheek humor to make it silly enough to be funny.
I still think there’s a lot of potential in this re-imagining of fairy tale characters into action heroes genre, but “Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters” misses the mark and few who see it will feel like they got the happily ever after they deserved.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: David Appleby/Paramount Pictures