This is not your parents' fairy tale
I like it when a movie skews the usual perspective of a concept, genre, or an idea that the general public feels to be a certain way. Remember growing up and reading fairy tales like“Hansel and Gretel"? Did you ever believe that it could become a more light-hearted version of Van Helsing (2004) with more blood, action sequences, and the slaughtering of witches? No?
Well neither did I when I grew up, but someone in Hollywood must have because that is what Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is like in a nutshell. Whether or not that is a good or a bad thing, we’ll see shortly enough.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters starts off similarly to the fairy tale and continues roughly where the fairy tale left off by having the siblings becoming orphans at a young age. Years later, they become bounty hunters of the witch-kind since they seem to kill them efficiently. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have become experts in their field seeing as they were able to kill a witch as children and somehow not die in the process. They are hired to find out what happened to some children, and the townspeople assume that it is the fault of witches and have gone the ways of Monty Python and the Holy Grail by seeing if a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala) is a witch. A witch by the name of Muriel (Famke Janssen) has taken the children so that all witch-kind can become more powerful. Thus Hansel, Gretel, and a handful of sidekicks have to save the day and the children.
The movie is strung together with an easy to follow plot and numerous actions scenes of the siblings hunting down witches. It does try to add a sprinkle of complexity to the story by adding in a toss away romance, and a back story to explain the siblings’ ability to hunt witches and what happens to their parents. It just doesn’t really add more to the overall story though; however it doesn’t detract from it either. The love story does strike a chord for me only because it was under developed and it ends in such an anti-climactic way. Between the backstory of why the siblings were orphaned and the love story, there is a whole good versus evil motif that tries to play out but ends up being underwhelming. It could have led to a potentially awesome witch versus witch action sequence, but it instead becomes a cop out to ending one of the story arcs.
I will say that the movie does have an interesting world that is crossbreed of two time periods. This is highly recognizable in the weaponry that the siblings use in the movie because everything is basically modern technology re-imagined as 18th century technology. With them having access to modern day weapon look-alikes, it makes action sequences less complex to a degree. I would have liked to see them have flint-lock pistols and blunderbusses while trying to hunt down these witches because it would be more of a challenge for them. Still, these weapons and tools lead to some creative methods towards the eradication of the witches. When these action scenes play out though, it devolves into rapid cutting along with trying to keep up with whom is fighting who.
The witches also added an interesting element to the world of the film. They appear as grotesque, and animalistic in nature. Gone is the iconic cackling laugh of a typical witch, and insert more growling and hissing in its stead. I rather liked the different approach to what is a witch. It was a nice change from the norm, and added the idea that there are many different types of witches.
Despite the appaently harsh outlook of the movie, I found myself laughing throughout it and enjoying it as well. While the story is not exactly original and is predictable, it has pretty decent pacing and is enough to keep on paying attention. Renner and Arterton have some good chemistry between them when they are together on the screen, providing a well-represented brother and sister relationship. They are the stars of the movie, leading to the assortment of secondary and tertiary characters that are really not necessary. One more important secondary character, Ben (Thomas Mann), does not have much screen time. When he does though, the scene could have been easily done with him not there because his character doesn’t contribute much to the film.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is very much a run-of-the-mill action-adventure movie. We got the interesting action scenes, creative methods of witch extermination, and a pretty creative, dark twist on the original fairy tale. It isn't awful, but it isn't even remotely a cinematic masterpiece.