HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS Review

Where to even begin with something such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters? To be honest I was somewhat excited for this film despite the fact knowing going into it that it was probably going to be pretty horrible. I read the Seth Grahame-Smith novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last spring in anticipation of the summer film adaptation but was sorely let down by that film (though it has improved to a fun, campy thrill on repeat viewings). It must have really burned the producers of this film to see that action/horror mash-up make it out of the gate first as their film has been complete for over a year now and has been doing little more than collecting dust. Why the delay? I can only imagine. I can't really see this film being much better after a years worth of tinkering and the 3D post conversion doesn't take THAT long; I can only think that after the release of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol the producers wanted to wait out 2012 and let Jeremy Renner become even bigger star with The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy which might guarantee them a bigger draw when they dropped it on unsuspecting movie-goers in late January. The strategy seems to have worked as Hansel and Gretel cleaned up at the box office and have proven that with a ridiculous, even outrageous premise one might still find an audience in those looking to see their favorite childhood fairy tales adapted for the big screen with a dark twist about them. The film is about as brainless as you  might expect, but I would be lying if I said I didn't have a pretty great time with the film as it flew by at a rip roaring pace and delivered grand entertainment value on a limited scale. I know it's dumb, I realize it will be completely forgotten about in a few weeks time, but I also know I became immersed in their world and didn't mind spending the hour and a half they required tagging along and killing some witches.

Gemma Arterton as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
The original Grimm fairy tale that chronicled the tale of two children sent out to fend for themselves due to their evil stepmother and cowardly father not being able to provide enough food for the family is only the basis of what takes place here and even this short introduction to our protagonists has been altered somewhat to give the siblings a more connected backstory and parallel to what writer and director Tommy Wirkola has plotted out for the adult versions of these characters. Most of the iconic pieces still take place here (though the trail of breadcrumbs is nowhere to be seen, not even in a cheeky way when they are hunting  the witches) as young Hansel and Gretel still stumble upon a house made of candy, eat without abandon and are lured in by a nasty little witch that plans to fatten them up before eating them herself. The short introduction of the film allows the story to follow Grimm as far as the children roasting the witch themselves but past this there is no happily ever after. They never find there way back to their parents, they don't ride any little duck across a river, but instead they band together and decide to do what only comes naturally after burning a with to death and that is to kill more witches. As movies do we are pushed several years into the future where we are re-introduced to Hansel and Gretel in the form of Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as they reach the latest town that has hired them to take care of their witching problems. Famke Janssen shows up as the grand witch Muriel who, along with her gang of highly stylized witches plan to perform some kind of sacred ritual in three days time and need several children to do so for some reason. The bounty hunters are brought in to stop them, but not everyone likes the idea. Peter Stormare and Thomas Mann symbolize either side of the argument for having Hansel and Gretel help with the towns issues while the titular heroes don't care what anyone thinks, they just want to get their job done.

As it goes with traveling heroes we as an audience are brought into the journey that will ultimately mean more to them than any other battle they have yet to encounter. In this aspect the film succeeds in bringing in enough strong emotional connections and motivation for our normally nonchalant leads to feel the need to really dig into the mystery surrounding the witches that have migrated to this town and for what reason. The film doesn't really play up the detective aspect of the story as things are laid out pretty plainly for us to realize what is coming, but that doesn't make the ride any less fun. While director Wirkola is quick to take the screenwriting 101 way out of situations he also shows little to no regard for any relationship in the film other than his main one. Whether it be the evil Sheriff played again by a wonderfully over-the-top Peter Stormare, a quick love interest for Hansel that feels simply for the sake of a love interest with Mina (Pihla Viitala) or even the troll that becomes a rather good companion for Gretel, none of these ever become anything more than archetypes, which is fine, as the film does try to play up its campy fun image most of the time and is so consistently paced with wreckless abandon and quick action sequences that we don't have time to really stop and notice the small things or even complain about them. A department to be commended on the film though is that of the make-up. From the opening sequence to the final showdown that features multiple witches it is clear the make-up team worked hard to create a specific design and look for the film and they surely succeeded. Choosing to stay with more practical effects and tools rather than simply using CGI to create some of the monsters allows us to better immerse ourselves in this crazy world rather than being distracted by cheap special effects (which happens from time to time when the witches hop on their brooms).

Jeremy Renner takes on some serious demons as an adult version of the classic fairy tale character Hansel. 
All in all, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is exactly what you might expect it to be and sometimes even a little more. There isn't really much more to say about the film because if you have any interest in it in the first place you will understand what you are getting into. Every part of the movie has been pulled from other movies (if you recognize the music in the opening moments that is because it sounds like the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack) and it feels like the main village set was re-used after Red Riding Hood was finished with it. Renner and Arterton do their best with what they've been given though they don't really possess a ton of chemistry with one another and both are probably a little sorry they ever agreed to do the film in the first place now. While there are many ways you could have improved this film (first and foremost make it funnier) there is no need to quarrel over such small things because as I said in my opening paragraph we will forget this movie ever existed in a few weeks and the slapdash effort this sometimes comes off as will be wiped from its stars resumes with no harm done. Like many other films that have come out this month I can't really defend the film critically, but I had a fun enough time with it that I wouldn't complain if someone said they were going to put it on somewhere down the line. There is ample opportunity in this genre but both this film and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter have failed to embrace what they really are by enlisting an all too serious tone. Don't get your hopes up with Jack the Giant Slayer either as it looks more a straightforward tale by talented director Bryan Singer more in the vein of Snow White and the Huntsmen than this, but you give me The Three Little Men in the Wood: Ogre Killers starring Demi Moore and Dolph Lundgren and I'm in.