The Last Witch Hunter Movie Review: Liked Chronicles of Riddick? You’ll Like It With Swords Too

A Beard and Vin Diesel star in The Last Witch Hunter. Summit Entertainment

It’s rare to find something so glittering and simple in its garish timeliness that we can recognize it in the moment. The Last Witch Hunter is studded with such instances. Though working in the flooded horror-action fantasy mold, The Last Witch Hunter is dotted with kitschy specificity that elevate Vin Diesel’s latest—if only in sporadic jags—over dreck like Dracula Untold, Seventh Son, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and I, Frankenstein.

The Last Witch Hunter Review

There is a lot to dislike about The Last Witch Hunter. The conspiracy to reawaken the Witch Queen in modern days is nonsense, driven by a hairy dunce who can barely manage to burn down a witch bar (a minor delight in The Last Witch Hunter is the appropriation of the jokey sci-fi tendency to throw “space” in front of mundane nouns, just with the word “witch”). The romance between Kaulder (Vin Diesel) and Chloe (Rose “You know nothing, Jon Snow” Leslie) has all the heat of a wet sock and every character who isn’t Vin Diesel feels just as perfunctory.

The Last Witch Hunter Movie Trailer

The Last Witch Hunter doesn’t hold together, but it can be beautiful falling apart. Opening in the 13th century, as Kaulder and his fellow knights hack and slash into the heart of Yggdrasil, the prologue is loaded with enviable beards and flaming swords. Banishing the Witch Queen and her alien xenomorph headdress, Kaulder is “cursed” with immortality. We catch up with him in 2015, now “The Weapon” of the Catholic Church as it rigorously polices a delicate worldwide truce with the Witch Council, a peace that’s about to be shattered with the Witch Queen’s return.

“It’s simple science,” says Kaulder as he pours magic salts over two sparking weather stones, tracked down after he uncovers magical runes using the condensation in his breath and touches a goth-y teen with his witch detection ring. The Last Witch Hunter gets magic better than any other movie of its type. For magic to work on-screen it needs to feel deliberate but whimsical, part of a ritual process with internal logic that’s neither too sloppy nor too ploddingly rigorous. Magic in The Last Witch Hunter is relentlessly inventive, with gummy trees, invisible barriers, bone-pile monsters, and candied cherry decoctions. If it’s big budget Hollywood and we must live with CGI color blasts and black insect swarms, then The Last Witch Hunter shows the best fit path. 

But while the magic, set design, and hair are genuine sensory pleasures, much of The Last Witch Hunter is about the tacky acting curios that fill its cabinet of curiosities. It’s hard not to savor Michael Caine in lazy Alfred mode, Isaach de Bankolé getting his face ripped open to reveal a white woman, and Vin Diesel’s mumbly-mouthed seriousness, even as he works his unorthodox pickup artist routines on mere mortal flight attendants. The Last Witch Hunter script forces some insane lines from these mouths. It’s hard to forget Michael Caine dredging up “look at you, you ugly bitch of a morning,” from his well of overwhelming emotion.

Situated somewhere between The Chronicles of Riddick and Jupiter Ascending in the half-knowing, half-flailing school of fantasy bombast, The Last Witch Hunter is a bad movie full of pleasures for those with the eyes to see.

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