Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — a grumpy veteran of an organization that deals with the supernatural is paired up with an inexperienced sidekick that’s also the token minority. Upon the death of their mentor or loved one, the gruff veteran and sidekick uncover a greater conspiracy and only have a certain amount of time left to save the world.
Does this describe the plot of “Men in Black,” “Hellboy” or “R.I.P.D.”? All three of them, actually, but also the latest film in what has now become the supernatural buddy cop genre, “The Last Witch Hunter.”
Whereas the first three movies listed gave us alien cops, demon cops and ghost cops, respectively, “The Last Witch Hunter” deals with, and this may be a bit of a stretch, witch cops. This phrase is used in the sense that Kaulder (Vin Diesel) is a member of the Axe and Cross, an agency of witch hunters keeping a truce between witches and humans since the generic European fantasy era the beginning of the film is set in.
While it is never made clear if Kaulder is the only agent in the agency or not, it is certainly clear that he is the longest-standing agent, due to the fact that he was made immortal by the witch queen. This sets up the actual plot — in modern New York, Kaulder must team up with the meek priest Dolan 37th (Elijah Wood) and the street-smart witch Chloe (Rose Leslie) in order to investigate the murder of Kaulder’s mentor and previous companion, Dolan 36th (Michael Caine).
The acting in the movie is present, but it’s neither good nor bad. It just exists for the sake of the movie seeming like a movie. Diesel continues to convince audiences that his best roles have two things in common: he himself doesn’t show up on screen, and he doesn’t speak more than three words (the evidence of which exists in both “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Iron Giant”). Grumbling and frowning are the extent of Kaulder’s emotions, besides, of course, pointless acrobatics and overdone one-liners.
The supporting characters are just props to help Kaulder along on his little adventure. It was surprising to see Wood and Caine starring in the film, to be honest. Sure, their careers have stagnated as of late, but neither needed to add this generic paycheck to their respective filmographies. Leslie, known for playing Ygritte on “Game of Thrones,” should have stayed on the small screen before moving on to the silver one, as her acting only barely reached Kaulder’s level of absolute blandness.
The plot is all over the place, with so much exposition that the film might as well have been replaced with the pitch that director Breck Eisner most likely presented to Summit Entertainment to get the film greenlit. This review barely touches upon the tons of lore the film throws at the audience, wasting budget that could and should have been used for better visuals. About half the film is composed of so many cheap visuals and green-screened scenery that viewers will have more than their fill of CGI to last a year.
Contrastingly, the storyline of “The Last Witch Hunter,” however, is ridiculously straightforward, covering almost every single cliché of the buddy cop formula and offering almost nothing original. Audiences know who will live, who will die and who is evil at the very beginning of the film. There’s only one major twist at the end, but it is so downplayed that it is pretty much irrelevant to the plot.
The only positive surprise while watching the film is that for once, it wasn’t a failed adaptation of a comic book franchise in the vein of “The Spirit” or Ben Affleck’s “Daredevil.” This surprise was quickly ruined, however, by the fact that the film is attempting to start a franchise. According to Diesel himself, a sequel to the “Axe and Cross” franchise is already in the works.
The only valid reaction to this news is one commonly found in the supernatural buddy cop flick genre — kill it before it lays eggs.