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"Whatever you do, don't eat the ****ing candy!"
on December 26, 2013
Leather. Gore. Anachronistic steampunk weapons. Snarling witches. And a pair of classic fairy-tale characters who have become witch-hunting bounty hunters.
If that doesn't tip you off that this isn't a very serious movie, then maybe the title will: "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters." Tommy Wirkola's first big Hollywood movie is strictly the kind of action-packed popcorn-for-the-brain that is fun to watch, as long as you don't take it too seriously. The biggest problem is that the movie never quite figures out if it's a tongue-in-cheek action movie or a dark comedy.
Once upon a time, Hansel and Gretel were abandoned in the woods by their parents, and ended up wandering over to a house made of candy. You know how the story goes -- there's a witch inside, she wants to eat Hansel, Gretel saves the day, and the witch is burned alive.
Happily ever after? Well, not exactly. Fifteen years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are leather-clad weapon-toting bounty hunters who specialize in witches, especially since spells don't affect them. The mayor of a small town hires them when children go missing, despite the meddling of the psychotic local sheriff and his band of goons.
After catching and offing a local witch, Hansel and Gretel discover that the witches are planning a massive sacrifice during a forthcoming Blood Moon. Even worse, the witches are led by a Grand Witch named Muriel (Famke Jansson) who knows the secrets of the siblings' past, and the true reason their parents abandoned them. Defeating her and her followers might be more than even Hansel and Gretel can handle.
My biggest problem with "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" is that it never quite makes up its mind what it wants to be -- it's too serious to be a dark comedy, but still too tongue-in-cheek to be a straight action movie. It vacillates between the two extremes constantly. But either way, it's a fun brainless movie, with buckets of gore and anachronistic weapons (Hansel's love-interest Mina blasts witches with a FRICKING GATLING GUN!).
So if you expect a mindless, tongue-in-cheek gorefest, this movie will probably fit the bill. Is it a great movie? Not really. Is it fun? Yeah! It's not even trying to be "authentic," so it succeeds wildly.
Wirkola is pretty obviously reveling in the ability to create a "dark fairy tale" with a firm R-rating. It could have used some subplot-pruning (Thomas Mann's "fanboy" character is just distracting), but the central tale is a pretty straightforward one. The fun comes from the one-liners ("I hate to break this to you, but this isn't gonna be an open casket"), the B-movie stunts and sets, and the gore. Did I mention the gore? Because there's a lot of it, and it's fun.
Wirkola also seems to enjoy showing Renner and Arterton getting beaten up, because nearly every scene with ANY action involves them getting slammed into rocks, knocked senseless, and occasionally stabbed. The Grimm siblings certainly earn their money.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton honestly couldn't look any LESS like siblings, but both look like they're having a blast as leather-clad, cussing bounty hunters who constantly wave around absurd weapons (Hansel's hilariously phallic gun). They are perfectly suited to the dry, tongue-in-cheek approach of the script, and they even get some interesting character twists, such as Hansel suffering from diabetes because of his all-candy diet as a child.
"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" is by no means a great film, but it is a resolutely fun one -- lots of splattered body parts, screeching witches and gleeful anachronisms. Turn off your brain and enjoy.