2013 - 88 minutes
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Written by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare,
Vittala, Thomas Mann
Director Tommy Wirkola garnered some attention for 2009’s gonzo Dead Snow, featuring a battle with zombies…in the snow. Zombies that were also Nazis. Now comes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, also featuring an incredibly wacky premise – that the young brother and sister from Grimm’s fairy tale grew up to become hunters of witches – that’s flush with potential. While a saggy middle section filled with clunky storytelling temporarily slows the fun, the film is colorful, brisk, and if you just go along it there’s plenty to enjoy.
After turning the tables and besting the evil witch that held them captive in a house of candy, the titular siblings honed their witch killing skills, growing into sturdy soldiers. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have developed a reputation as reliable witch hunters, using their strength and old world weapons with modern functionality to slay any old hag they face. The duo is brought to a hamlet that has had several children stolen by wicked witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Facing resistance from Muriel’s right-hand sorceresses and an unwelcoming Sherriff (Peter Stormare), Hansel and Gretel are tasked with saving the kids and preventing future torment to the village. They have precious little time to save the day, with Muriel preparing for the Blood Moon eclipse and a ritual that will make her and her fellow witches impervious to fire – the preferred method of destroying them.
Early action scenes set the Raimi-ish tone for the carnage with quick editing that’s never disorienting and copious amounts of gore. The interplay between Renner and Arterton is quippy and entertaining, hardened and wise after their years of being warriors and a little annoyed at the buffoonery of the villagers. Casual language anachronisms add to the playful tone; Gretel is particularly fond of the “f” word, often said in exasperation as her bosom heaves from the plunging neckline of her skintight Victorian garb. Hansel’s big annoyance is his “sugar sickness” (diabetes) developed from being force-fed candy as a child, and he takes a shot whenever the alarm goes off on his retro-future wristwatch.
The quick and easy pace starts to drag after the first big battle with Muriel, the siblings finding themselves separated and working through some expositional details. Hansel is pursued by pretty villager Mina (Pihla Vittala) and Gretel gets paired with a troll named Edward (Derek Mears). An unnecessarily detailed familial backstory is filled in as the script simultaneously works through the character particulars of Mina and Edward and how they can be of use during the climactic battle with Muriel. There’s also a Hansel and Gretel superfan (Thomas Mann) that chips in to help, but slows things down.
Once the Blood Moon rises, however, things pick up again in a ridiculous climax that involves booby-traps in the forest for witches piloting brooms and copious amounts of enchanted heavy artillery. Wirkola manages the chaos well, the second act hiccup bearing the marks of some studio notes and intrusion on the production. Renner and Arterton fully embrace their characters and capture the irreverence without giving way completely to camp. The 3D also adds to the aesthetic with good depth throughout and plenty of witch body parts, arrows, and other projectiles flying from the screen. If ever there’s a movie to play up the gimmicky aspects of the third dimension, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is it. Just accept the imprudence and you’ll probably have some fun.