Director/Writer Tommy Wirkola’s reimagined fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, is a lively action movie with 3-D visuals that spew mayhem like a popcorn machine. Its seemingly nonstop fight sequences will hold your attention and its twisted witches will haunt your nights.
As a popcorn movie, Hansel and Gretel hits all the marks, but its imitation flavor flees your memory before you’ve left the theater. Where is its story, characters and humor? Their reality is the actual fairy tale here, which is surprising since Will Ferrell is a credited co-writer on the project.
The movie seems cobbled together from 2005’s The Brothers Grimm and 2004’s Van Helsing. The memorable Peter Stormare even portrays a character cloned from his Cavaldi role in The Brothers Grimm, but his new Sheriff possesses none of the original’s humor or menace.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as the fabled siblings who survive a witch’s house of candy to become master witch slayers in their adulthood. Horror queen Famke Janssen stars as the pair’s evil nemesis, the Grand Witch Muriel. The tender-faced Ingrid Bolso Berdal plays the obligatory love interest.
The story concerns the mystery behind the siblings’ abandonment, and their current quest to prevent the leathery ladies from attaining invincibility in their war against humans. To stop the formidable witches, Hansel and Gretel must rely on their wits, their experience and their wooden cart of weapons—which, as anyone would expect of medieval warriors, consists of Gatling gun-style crossbows, semi-automatic shotguns and full-auto heavy machine guns. Hard to understand why the Dark Ages lasted so long with military technology like that at people’s fingertips. The biggest surprise is that Hansel doesn’t give chase to a witch on a broomstick by climbing into an F16 fighter jet.
Fortunately, the chronological anomalies are limited to the weaponry. Well, actually, no, they’re not. They’re rife in the dialogue as well, with characters tossing “See ya!” at each other and calling the locals dumb “hillbillies.”
Speaking of the locals, we return to the core problem with the film: the abysmal lack of character development. The townsfolk whom the siblings risk their lives to save are no more than pieces of vapid scenery. There is nothing sympathetic or even particularly human about them.
Even Hansel and Gretel are empty shells of heroes, just videogame figures jumping around and shooting. Most disturbing, Jeremy Renner’s performance is forced and inconsistent, as if he is constantly struggling to find something in his character to inhabit.
Ironically, only the witches exhibit any depth of character, and that is manifested solely through their faces and body language. They alone seem vested with any semblance of a soul, albeit tortured and damned ones. Their characters and stories appear far more intriguing than the shoot-from-the-hip fulminations of the two wisecracking witch-killers.
If more attention had been paid to the characters than the explosions, this movie might actually have become a new fairy tale classic. As it is, this surfeit of 3-D eye candy, like the witch’s sugary cottage, is certain only to leave you hungry and diabetic.