As a new spin on an old fairytale, your enjoyment of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is directly correlated to your reaction to the title.
Let’s bitch it out…The film is more or less exactly what you’d expect. There’s a little bit of (unnecessary) swearing, a little bit of nudity (Pihla Vittala’s Mina side boob to be exact) and a whole bunch of stylized violence. For the most part, however, the violence is the kind of violence where people are repeatedly punched in the face and immediately jump right back up. Unless, of course, they’re punched by a troll, in which case their head is reduced to a pile of red mush.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the central premise. Hansel (played by Jeremy Renner and pronounced Han-sell) and Gretel (played by Gemma Arterton and pronounced without accent or inflection) are abandoned in the woods by their parents as children, discover a disgusting CGI candy house and eventually kill the witch inside. They get a taste for killing, and grow up to be the best witch hunters in the world until MILD SPOILERS a case brings them back to their old hometown and events conspire to make them question who they really are and what happened to their parents. END SPOILERS
The plot is not rocket science to figure out, as the truth of Hansel and Gretel’s past is the kind of convention that Hollywood films routinely employ.There’s only one true surprise (the fate of a character), and considering everything else that happens, the surprise is that this person is not resurrected since the film seems reluctant to kill anyone that isn’t a mustache-twirling villain or a witch.
On the whole, however, the film is surprisingly not bad. Let’s be clear: it’s not a great film, or a particularly innovative film, but if you like fantasy/action and want to see a decent amount of gore, there are worse ways to kill a few hours. Plus, it’s nowhere near as bad as Snow White & The Huntsman, so that’s gotta count for something, right?
- I do find the violence slightly problematic: all of the witches are women and Arterton’s Gretel is much more frequently victimized (beaten, kidnapped, in need of rescue) than Renner’s Hansel. Although the witches are clearly meant to be seen as monsters and Gretel does get in a fair amount of ass-kicking, it still ends up being a lot of women getting their hurt-on
- As a big fan of Famke Janssen (Goldeneye, X-Men series), I found her role as Muriel disappointing. As the central villain she isn’t given much to do and is buried under a mound of (admittedly very well done) make-up
- If you’re hoping for an explanation of how or where Hansel and Gretel get their steampunk-esque weapons, I’d advise against holding your breath. We’re meant to think they’re awesome, not inquire how they come about. With that said, the wires in the trees trick is pretty cool
- Also not well explained: Hansel’s mysterious condition that requires him to jam a needle into his leg every few hours. The suggestion is that he’s diabetic, but writer/director Tommy Wirkola has no interest in doing anything with this plot point other than use it as a weakness during a key fight scene (naturally)
- The sets from Van Helsing have held up remarkably well over the last eight years! I’m not being serious (at least I don’t think so), but it sure does look like Hansel & Gretel raided the 2004 film’s storage locker to liberate the town sets
- I find Thomas Mann’s Ben completely distracting because he a) looks like a young Justin Long and b) has perfectly styled hair all the time. There’s nothing that takes you out of a movie as much as contemporary hair in a historical film (I call this the Red Riding Hood effect)
- One of the coolest elements of the film: the opening credits, which are done in the spirit of stop-motion 3D wood cuttings depicting Hansel and Gretel’s history as witch hunters. They don’t look particularly great, but the idea is fun
- The 3D is sufficient. It’s very much in the same vein as other horror/action films in which the majority of the effect are weapons and gore coming at you, but it could have been far worse
- Finally, it’s clear that this is intended as a franchise starter. I can’t see that happening under any circumstances, which means that Renner will be 0 for 4 after Mission: Impossible, The Bourne films and no plans to spin-off Hawkeye outside of The Avengers
As the first big action film of the year, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is decent, albeit unspectacular. It’s fairly predictable with random cuss words thrown in to make it “edgy”, but the action is sufficient and both leads are pleasant enough to watch for a few hours.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is now playing in theatres