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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ doesn’t quite nail it

Claire Stephens | Monday, January 28, 2013

From a director whose notable works include a Nazi zombie horror comedy and a Norwegian parody of “Kill Bill” comes “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”-exactly the kind of violent, outrageous fun to be expected. But you do have to be expecting it.

The very title of the movie does well to prepare the audience of the humor and excesses that go far beyond the typical fairy-tale action remake. Director Tommy Wirkola takes the ridiculous violence of a Quentin Tarantino film, the impressive fantasy hair and makeup of a Tim Burton movie and holds it all together with some good old-fashioned American action violence. Granted, that violence takes the form of some kick-butt heroes with guns, crossbows, tasers and American accents despite their place in the original setting of the fairy tale.

Wirkola’s first big-budget film, despite the overwhelmingly bad response from critics, is good enough for Hollywood and shows a lot of promise for niche audience in future projects. The violence and humor do not replace the plot, but motivate these empowered characters to some purpose and final goal as opposed to mindless bounty hunting. Even a romantic interest and childhood revelation or two are thrown in to twist the classic fairy tale further from the original.

However, while the plot and characters were good enough to meet basic movie standards, it doesn’t make the jump from “good enough” over to simply “good.” The unique touch of the crazy violence and comic premise is entertaining and different, but the plot complexity would only challenge a child.

There is also unreached potential in the characters, especially considering the talent and star power of Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. A brother-sister mixed gender duo had a lot of emotional promise, especially since we all know the story of trauma and vulnerability from their childhood. Renner’s typically tough, blasé character complimented Arterton’s softer, feminine influence. Credit should be given for not turning her character into a scantily clad, powerful dominatrix that so many heroines seem to be. However, besides the duo’s teamwork, little investment is put into their relationship and shared experiences.

A bit of depth is given by giving Hansel a love interest and Gretel gaining an unlikely friend. Still, the movie feels too short to develop these relationships enough for the audience to care for these characters’ well being.

As far as genre, “Hansel and Gretel”could have been either more dramatic and emotional or witty and dryly humorous. With an ‘R’ rating, it also could have afforded to be sexier, cruder and more violent and could have taken more risks by creating stronger emotional bonds between the characters and the audience.

Another one of the weaknesses with the violent fun is that the movie doesn’t commit to realistic violence or comically fake violence, but walks the unsteady line between the two. Many times the situation of the violence is ridiculous (such as someone’s entire body imploding, someone’s limbs being ripped off them or witches being shredded to pieces) but the execution of the special effects is moderately realistic. The production value is surprisingly good most of the time, but not realistic enough to make you sick unless you’re very squeamish.

“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is great fun, but not a great movie. It is no Oscar winner or must-see. However, the film shows promise for future works in the genre. Critics may hate it, but a cult following of fans will love it. 

 

 

 

 

2.5 out of 5 shamrocks

Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton