Vin Diesel is our most reliably earnest action hero. There’s very little irony in his persona—he doesn’t serve us action with a wink or a smirk, a la Bruce Willis or The Rock. What makes him a star is his unquestionable alpha male presence and the essential decency he projects, which comes through no matter how gruff or bruising his character may seem. He’s legitimately great as the Fast and Furious’s Dominic Toretto precisely because of that stolid earnestness, because he buys into the film’s corny “family is everything” ethos. However, Vin Diesel is definitely not the kind of actor who can effortlessly coast through a film by dint of his rakish wit and charm. He needs a vehicle (ahem) that plays to his strengths. The Last Witch Hunter is definitely not such a vehicle.
To be honest, I’m not sure Breck Eisner’s chinzy, uninspired film would be a great vehicle for anyone, although one of the Chrisses (Evans, Pine, Hesmworth) would’ve probably fared better. The film starts in the 13th century, as Vin’s Kaulder joins a hunting party hellbent on avenging loved ones who have been killed by the evil Queen Witch. For those scenes, Vin sports a long beard and faux-hawk that makes him look like Tom Hardy crossed with Macklemore crossed with Father Time. Vin successfully vanquishes the Witch Queen, but she damns him to eternal life— a curse that makes him even more miserable, what with his dead family and all. They quickly cut to present day, where Vin is now a full-time witch hunter and looks pretty much like himself—bald, brawny, and ready to kick some demonic butt. He lives in the sort of large and impeccably appointed apartment that movie vampires and other eternal souls always seem to live in, begging the question: Where does all their money come from? Is there some sort of “Damned to Eternal Life” trust fund?
Over the years, Kaulder has been aided by the Doyles, a family of priests who serve as his watchers, a la Giles from Buffy (a series that The Last Witch Hunter borrows from liberally, without containing an ounce of its wit and smarts). His latest watcher, Doyle 36 (Michael Caine, shoring up his reputation as cinema’s least discriminating great-actor-for-hire), is about to be succeeded by the young, eager, slightly fastidious Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood), who has yet to earn Kaulder’s trust. When some sort of super bad, shapeshifting he-witch comes to town—the film never calls male witches “warlocks” for what it’s worth—Kaulder also teams up with Chloe (a feisty and appealing Rose Leslie), a “good” witch who owns a bar that caters only to fellow witches, and who also serves as his nominal love interest.
Believe it or not, there’s actually some squandered potential here. Instead of killing witches, Kaulder is more like a bounty hunter, bringing his conquests to a witch council of elders, who dispense punishment (usually eternal captivity) as they see fit. Later, Chloe and Kaulder go to a fashion house filled with old women who have been given youth spells. On the outside, they’re gorgeous supermodels, but in the mirror, their true shriveled faces are revealed. Both of these scenes—as well as a quick scene at Chloe’s bar—show potential that is left undeveloped.
Mostly, the film gives us lame action and bad special effects and Vin, as is his wont, taking the whole endeavor way too seriously. There’s lots of fake contact lenses and reverberated voices and fights scenes in dark, smoky spaces, perhaps to obscure the lousy CGI. Then, at the end, they hint at a sequel! Now, that’s ironic.