After killing the witch who lived in the gingerbread house, the brother and sister of fairy tale fame set out on a lifetime of showing the pointy-hat-wearers who’s boss in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a lackluster action movie.
The all-grown-up Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are guns for hire when a town has a witch it needs killed. The witches steal children, Hansel and Gretel show up, fighting ensues, children are saved and witches, often headless, are tossed into a bonfire.
After several children go missing in one town, the siblings show up only to find the local sheriff (Peter Stormare) is already running a, well, witch hunt and has found a pretty young candidate for burning at the stake. No, no, explain Gretel and Hansel who show up at the nick of time, true witches turn all scaly and green and fly on brooms.
Unimpressed with the sheriff’s investigation, the siblings set out to find the witch on their own. Or, as it turns out, witches, as head witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) has witch helpers to assist her in an evil plot to become impervious to fire. The quest to defeat Muriel and save the children she’s kidnapped (who are, I think, supposed to be witch food although the movie never really makes it clear, possibly because it’s super disturbing) becomes more involved as Hansel and Gretel discover that Muriel has ties to their long-vanished parents and the fateful episode that lead them to that candy-covered house in the forest as kids.
The mediocrity of this movie baffles me. The basic concept — playing with fairy tale characters — has worked A-OK for the folks at ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Jeremy Renner is fun in action movies both high art (The Hurt Locker) and low (The Avengers). Famke Janssen is a good-enough villain, and Gemma Arterton (Miss Strawberry Fields from Quantum of Solace) is totally fine in the Gretel role (OK, maybe she’s the weakest link but still, basically, fine). But somehow, these fairly promising ingredients never really come together. Milk bottles with wood-cut illustrations of missing children on them had me ready for some fairy-tale-world-meets-real-world humor, as did some of the dialogue. But the movie doesn’t really go that way. Nor does it go the other way of trying to make us think were in some fairy tale ye olden days. And while there are plenty of scenes of action movie kick-assery, I made the mistake of seeing this movie in 3D, which rendered those scenes a shaky, blurry mess.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters could have been, if not a good movie, a fun movie that riffed on its source material but where ther should be enchantment there is only a lifeless outline for a story. C-
Rated R for strong fantasy violence and gore, brief sexuality/ nudity and language. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an hour and 28 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.