How many franchises does one man need? In the case of Vin Diesel, it’s as many as he can churn out given his less than stellar success rate. Sure, The Fast and Furious films have billions of dollars, but the less said about The Pacifier, the better. Diesel’s enormous worldwide receipts for Fast and Furious have opened the doors for Diesel to resurrect failed projects like Riddick and xXx as well as play Dungeons & Dragons with a $90 million budget.
Diesel may be one of the world’s most famous D&D players and his love for fantasy and role-playing can be felt in the convoluted mythology of Richard B. Riddick. In The Last Witch Hunter, he’s basically LARPing on the big screen.
Diesel is Kaulder, a medieval warrior who kills the evil Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) by impaling her with a flaming sword. With her dying breath, the Witch Queen curses Kaulder with immortality, which doesn’t seem that bad. Sure, Kaulder has to spend centuries mourning the loss of his wife and child. On the other hand, he’s living in a ritzy penthouse in New York City and beds a succession of stewardesses.
Kaulder has also kept peace between humanity and those who would use magic in sinister ways. He’s assisted by The Brotherhood of the Axe and Cross, a secret society of priests who select a Dolan to serve as Kaulder’s right-hand man. Michael Caine inexplicably plays the man known only as the 36th Dolan, who is retiring and passing on the mantle to the always wide-eyed Elijah Wood.
Last Witch Hunter earns a bit of fantasy cred with the casting of Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones as a witch with the ability to enter dreams. Together, she and Kaulder must prevent the resurrection of the Witch Queen.
There’s mild imagination at work in Last Witch Hunter with Kaulder performing some mystical CSI work at a crime scene and an underutilized Isaach De Bankole as a warlock who mixes psychedelic bugs into his baked goods. Too bad the film is nearly crushed under the weight of its own ponderous tone. At least, Diesel had a glimmer in his eye as Dominic Toretto. Here, he doesn’t show a lot of levity and comes across as ironically more wooden than Groot.
Timur Bekmambetov was originally slated to direct Witch Hunter and you can’t help but imagine the wild set pieces he would have envisioned. Instead, we have to settle for the uninspired direction of Breck Eisner. One of the movie’s pivotal action scenes features Kaulder riding a spider-like tree inside a cave that is so dark you can barely make out what’s happening.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film was shot digitally using Arri Alexa cameras. The transfer is sumptuous with a high level of detail that allows you to see every line in Vin Diesel’s furrowed brow. The murky climax has more to do with the cinematography and not the actual disc.
The audio is presented in DTS: X, which is the home version of those fancy Dolby Atmos theaters with speakers in the ceiling. For audiophiles a few steps behind, the disc will play in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Action sequences feel immersive with heavy enforcement by Steve Jablonsky’s score.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with Breck Eisner, who delves into technical minutiae, special effects, and make-up.
Crafting the Magic: The Last Witch Hunter (30:20) is the standard issue behind-the-scenes featurette with members of the cast and crew discussing the production, working with Vin, Michael Caine, and the fantasy genre.
The Last Witch Hunter Sizzle Reel/Paint It Black (1:36) is a quick trailer set to Ciara’s cover of the Rolling Stones song.
Rounding out the Blu-ray are four animated shorts that dig just a little deeper into the history of Kaulder and the witches.
Film Value: 5
The credited screenwriters on The Last Witch Hunter are Cory Goodman (writer of Priest) and the duo of Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless, the scribes behind Dracula Untold and Gods of Egypt. Not a great way to inspire confidence. If xXx or Riddick easily entertained you, The Last Witch Hunter will satiate your cravings for Vin Diesel’s brand of junk food cinema.