This movie rests most of its gags on cheesy anachronistic dialogue reminiscent of an 80's buddy cop movie, and equally as anachronistic and absurdly styled medieval weaponry. The frenetic and often confusing action was mostly well done, but the gimmicks got a little tiresome after a while. The only thing that really saves it is the attitude the script takes, setting the tone right away that this wasn't going anything approaching serious.
There are a couple issues of controversy. First and foremost, this is a brutal film and almost all the action is violence against women. Except for two of the leads, these women were all depicted as horrible evil creatures (in creature make-up, no less) bent on causing as much death and destruction as possible, and the imagery felt more than a little misogynistic.
Case in point: The heroine, who is pretty bad ass, gets beaten up twice by groups of men, and subsequently saved by men. I don't believe it was the intention of the producers to create this uncomfortable dynamic. Unfortunately, that isn't an excuse, especially when those aspects could've easily been handled a bit differently. The only thing that reverses the misogyny is the fact that there isn't a single male character that has any kind of supernatural power... unless you count the troll.
Secondly, this film takes place in a period of history where real people were being burned alive for often flimsy and paranoid reasons. Witch hunts caused many innocent deaths. Here, that history has been co-opted by the fantastical, turning those fake witches into real ones, the conceit being that all witches are evil, and the best way to kill them is to burn them.
The term 'Witch Hunter' is literal here, with the title characters surviving a very effective opening sequence with the candy house and the evil witch. This time the parallels were intentional though, even using one of the big early sequences as an introduction and exposition dump while an innocent woman was being threatened with death by burning at the stake. I won't say what happens, but suffice it to say, Gretel doesn't like it when people are falsely accused.
The real highlight for me was Gemma Arterton as Gretel, who along with a fabulously well done practical effects troll, basically stole the show. Hansel was good too. Jeremy Renner is a solid lead, but he didn't go outside his established persona much. What I really enjoyed was the interplay between the two siblings. They supported each other and cared for one another without pretense or evasion. There were a couple of very genuine moments between the two, although unfortunately, the actors also seemed to have some romantic chemistry. That chemistry mostly worked as a simple familial connection, but there was one scene that felt uncomfortable with a bit of subtext.
The plot was shallow and clichéd, but there were a couple of fun twists that I could totally see coming. The one romantic plot kind of fizzled without any real pay off. The villain was played by the scene-chewing Famke Janssen, and I thought she did an okay job, even if she was a little too over the top. The human villain (Peter Stormare) was mostly just moronic, and his character and plot line could've been removed entirely without any detrimental effect on the story or the characters. Well, except for one that could've been brought about in a different way.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, although I'm pretty sure not many others will. If you like gory fantasy with plenty of action, this is the movie for you. I imagine it'll become a cult classic further down the line, but for now it is a critical bomb.
2 out of 4 Trolls named Edward.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.