JANUARY 24, 2013
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
I never felt compelled to revisit it, but I was among the few in my circle to enjoy Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow, and thus was interested to see what he'd do with a considerably larger budget, a cast of actors I mostly like (Jeremy Renner gets less interesting to me with each new movie), and a concept that would lend itself to both horror and action, plus some comedy if he saw fit. Sadly, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't quite succeed at any of those things, never engaging me for more than a few seconds at a time here and there.
You know how modern shooter games have cut scenes that look like full blown theatrical features (since there's so much CGI in our movies it's hard to tell the difference), and could probably more or less make a feature when strung together? That's pretty much what Hansel & Gretel is. The action scenes are brief and repetitive, and are sandwiched between drawn out conversations about what's going on in its not very complicated plot - it's 75 minutes of the stuff you'd see in between playing and, as it turns out, actually having fun. Not that I expected to be blown away by the characters or the storyline, but it feels like they wrote the "Once upon a time" and the "and they lived happily ever after" parts and forgot about the actual story part.
Here's the plot: evil witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, as gorgeous as ever - does this woman not age?) needs to kidnap 12 children to complete some ritual. When the movie begins, her and her cohorts have already nabbed 11 of them, and the 12th is taken at the film's halfway point. Everything up until that point is setup: retelling the H&G tale, explaining that the siblings grew up to be asskicking witch hunters (the movie lives up to its title, I'll give it that much) and why they're in the town that the kids have been taken from. Once that kid is taken, the rest of the movie (which runs about 75 minutes without credits) is just Hansel and Gretel going after her, which takes minimal effort since there are only like four sets in the entire movie. Seriously, at one point the siblings manage to find their childhood house while tracking one of the witches, and 20 minutes later they again just happen to stumble across the famed house made of candy from their "origin". They're rarely faced with any major obstacles, the climax has no real buildup, and the few things that can be considered subplots are often wrapped up as quickly as they are introduced. I've read Bazooka Joe comics with more plot complications.
My favorite diversion has to be the movie's most ridiculous idea, which is that Hansel now suffers from diabetes thanks to eating parts of a candy house, and needs to give himself a shot of insulin every day or else he'll die. In a way it's sort of along the same line of thinking as a "Vegan Zombie" ("What if they ate so much candy they got diabetes? Haha!") and thus mildly amusing, but like most things there's no real payoff - during a key fight his little alarm goes off to remind him to take the shot, and thus there's about 12 seconds of "intensity" where he starts to lose his ability to fight, until Gretel saves him and things go on. The witch could have merely gotten a good hit to his temple in until his sister shook him back to his senses for all the effect it has on anything.
And all of that would be OK if the action was at least exciting enough to forgive the threadbare plot or blank slate characters (newspaper clippings during the title sequence tell us more about our heroes than anything in the actual movie), but if anything that's the movie's biggest failing. All of the action scenes are identical; the two of them shoot at a witch in the distance, who deflects their attacks and flies toward them to engage in hand to hand combat, which carries on for 30 seconds until either Hansel or Gretel gets the upper hand and subdues them until the other finishes them off. They all seem to take place in the same patch of woods, and Wirkola doesn't inject much flair into them, either - a few random slo-mo shots here and there are about it. The best part of the movie is when the leads actually split up for a bit, because it at least holds the promise of a change up to the action, but this section is pretty action-free except for when Gretel is attacked by some local assholes and saved by Edward, a troll played by Derek Mears. Edward is by far the movie's best invention; a sympathetic giant who doesn't want to serve the evil witches anymore (why is never explained, of course, he just DOES). And it's not a CGI abomination, either - Mears is wearing a full animatronic suit over his already considerable frame. I'm sure they want a franchise out of this, but I'm only interested in an Edward spinoff.
The climax also comes out of nowhere and comes with crushing disappointment, as Muriel assembles all of the witches in the area, and we get a peek at a far more interesting world than the one we've seen in the previous 65 minutes. All sorts of cool witch designs and assorted monster types are assembled here, like a Clive Barker gallery come to life, but they don't get to do anything! They're introduced, and then we're off to the final battle between our heroes and Muriel. Since we haven't met any of the kids there's no stakes to their predicament beyond "they're kids" and even with the R rating we know they'll all be fine, so like everything else, the movie just goes through the necessary motions until it's over.
Speaking of the R, it certainly earns it, though it doesn't seem to fit the movie. When Gretel drops an F bomb or Edward makes pulp out of a guy's head, it feels like a relic from a much more raunchy and violent version of the script. Most of the tone seems inspired by Van Helsing (great point of reference, Paramount), so it'd be like if Hugh Jackman suddenly castrated a local and then Kate Beckinsale made good on a promise for him to fuck himself. Every single R rated bit that came along, I thought "Oh yeah, this is R" - it never felt organic to the movie they were making. If you read the credits, you'll see that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers - that certainly hints at a movie that this might have been at one point, before the 20 other producers had their say (beware a movie with FOUR vanity logos at the top).
It's not the worst movie out there (what's up, Haunted House?), but it just seems like one of those movies where they had a good script (or at least a good treatment) and by the time everyone had their say there was no personality left to it. The R rating is at odds with the film's rather juvenile plot, and neither Renner or Gemma Arterton seem to be putting much effort into things either. Peter Stormare, along with Janssen and Mears, are colorful and provide the film's best bits, but not enough to warrant the ticket price alone (and in Stormare's case you can literally go next door and see him in something with a little more personality: The Last Stand). Wait for the inevitable extended cut on Blu-ray.
What say you?
P.S. It's available in 3D, but I opted for 2D because I couldn't figure out if the movie was shot that way or converted later (I read articles claiming both). Apart from some of the big sweeping establishing shots and a few brief action shots, I don't think I missed out on much seeing it flat.