Film Review – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Do you like your action/adventure movies filled with a wall-to-wall knock-off Danny Elfman score and unconvincing CGI blood? Do you like pedantic, uninspired dialogue? Do you like your period stories filled with modern day aphorisms, F-bombs, and one-dimensional characters? Then Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters may be for you.
Now with a premise like this, no one is expecting Shakespeare. But clever, campy fun would seem in order. Alas, we get too much earnest go-go action movie that relies too heavily on computer-generated effects and not nearly enough of that expected camp. The pre-credits sequence shows us the Hansel and Gretel story we all know from fairy tales. They find a candy house, get captured by a very loud witch, escape, and push her into the fireplace. Many years later, we find them grown into experienced witch hunters armed with steam-punk-style weaponry. Clad in leather and possessed of preternatural fighting skills, they are hired by a non-descript village’s mayor to find out what happened to the town’s children. The plan is to hunt down the witch that kidnapped them and make her pay. What follows is an endless litany of 3D crossbow bolts shooting out of the screen, much athletic twirling about during fight scenes, a LOT of running through the woods, and the dispatching of many cartoonishly screaming witches.
Directed by Tommy Wirkola, Hansel & Gretel is another example of an action movie with way too much reliance on CGI. The editing is quick and choppy, and in this world of sped-up action, the camera can do amazing things that it never used to be able to do before, but nothing has any weight. There’s no suspense or believability. When someone is hit or shot or decapitated, it doesn’t look real at all. There are no stakes in any of the fight scenes. The brother and sister heroes are so badass that you never doubt they will come out on top. The head witch, played by Famke Janssen (this woman has GOT to start getting some better roles again), is buried under a layer of computer-enhanced ugly makeup that seems to give her one expression all the time. And I counted at least six occasions where she could have just killed the heroes if she hadn’t paused to slowly monologue over them before dealing her final blow, giving someone else in the fight a chance to sneak up on her. This witch is her own worst enemy.
Jeremy Renner is a capable and engaging movie star. But he had better ratchet up the quality control on his selection of roles if he wants to continue his hot streak, because playing Hansel in this isn’t doing him any favors. Gemma Arterton is capable as Gretel as well, but fight choreography is about all she’s asked to do here. The movie itself has the germs of good ideas for some fun jokes. Early on, the missing kids’ faces are pasted on old-style milk bottles. Or when a troll arrives to help Gretel by violently dispatching Peter Stormare as the town Sheriff and his henchmen, the over-the-top blood spurts while he crushes them are quite funny. One of the best ideas has Hansel needing to take regular injections to combat his “candy sickness,” which implies he’s developed diabetes and needs insulin. But those moments are few and far between. With a premise this inherently goofy, what you need is a lot of over the top. Think of the Verhoeven-style violence of Robocop or Starship Troopers. Or, if they are trying to add menace to what is typically children’s fare, look at Pan’s Labyrinth as a far superior example.
Even at under 90 minutes, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters wears out its welcome. It’s noisy, busy, and uninvolving.
Final Grade: D