It’s a great idea, in theory. Why not take the two precocious fairy tale urchins who find themselves trapped in a gingerbread house by a child-hungry witch, explain how they escaped, and then turn them into a pair of paranormal “crime” fighters. Have them travel around from hamlet to hamlet, ridding the local populace of their multiple magical hag problems and reap the rewards of being Dark Age celebrities. Make them handsome and hip, quick with a post-modern quip and provide a lot of CG eye candy to make their sorceress slaying all the more enjoyable. Finally, discover a dour backstory (and a viable villainess) to make their most recent adventures all the more meaningful.
Wrap it up in some unnecessary 3D and you’ve got the surefire hit Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, right? Well, like we said before, it’s a great idea… in theory. Like communism. Or trickle down economics. Indeed, whatever spirit compelled Dead Snow‘s Tommy Wirkola to dream up this insane idea needs to be exorcised immediately. With its emphasis on action, over the top F/X, lax period piece details (there sure is a lot of contemporary cursing for a film set so far in the past) and standard buddy film facets, this is a Billy Pilgrim production — unstuck in time and unsure how to remove itself from same.
We first meet Hansel (eventually Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (soon personified by Gemma Arterton) as kids, abandoned by their dad and dealing with the aforementioned sugar shack. We soon learn that the former is now a diabetic and has to take the “olde world” version of insulin on a regular basis. Arriving at one of the many towns they tour to earn their keep, they recognize something familiar. Soon, they are once again dealing with the Queen Black Witch (Famke Janssen), who wants to use 12 wee ones, the heart of her White counterpart, and an upcoming cosmic anomaly to craft an immortality spell for her broom-flying sisterhood. Desperate to stop them, Hansel and Gretel team up with a local official (Peter Stormare) and their “number one fan” (Thomas Mann) to battle the cruel coven.
Created in 2011 but held back to give Renner (and by default, his next film) the benefit of his post-Avengers/Bourne Legacy cache, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a baffling, bipolar experience. On the one hand, it offers some exciting action scenes, a few novel ideas, and the decidedly fresh perspective of someone outside the studio system. Yet one can also sense the suits lording over the final cut, removing material Wirkola thought would fly while demanding more and more mediocrity. Clearly, they wanted a wonky Ghostbusters for the Plague set. What they got instead were moments of fun followed almost immediately by insufferable sequences of labored exposition and dull myth building.
Had one singular approach been secured, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters might have worked — or at the very least, worked better than what’s on display here. It’s hard to get a handle on what your reaction should be: Fear? Laughter? Edge of your seat thrills? Tingling of the spine chills? Unfortunately, by the end of this loud, obnoxious mess, the only clear response is one of confusion — and then calculated dismissal.
The Blu-ray includes an unrated cut of the film and a number of making-of featurettes.