Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Movie Review

Nobody really likes movie critics. It’s no secret, we all know it, and while part of us cheers when we read a critic ripping into the latest dud from the Hollywood sausage factory, there’s another part of us that thinks critics are a bitter, cynical crew who’ve had all the joy drained from their lives via a lifetime of watching fun films when they’d rather be off staring into the gloom of some arthouse dirge-fest. So when all the advance press for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters says that as a film it contains all the nutrition and flavour of a nub of used chewing gum peeled off the underside of a discarded school desk… well, critics clearly just don’t understand that films like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters are MEANT to be stupid and violent and incoherent.

That’s why when the opening credits for Hansel & Gretel list Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers, it’s like a massive ray of sunshine bursts through the screen to light up your heart. Of course all the advance press for this film has been relentlessly negative; it’s a comedy and the snooty stuck-up arthouse-loving jerks who’ve been spreading the bad word simply didn’t get the joke! It’s a movie about Hansel & Gretel growing up and fighting witches; of course it’s produced by the guys behind Step Brothers and Anchorman and The Other Guys, because it’s got to be a pisstake of massive proportions.

And then it proceeds to be as funny as coming home to discover your house has been rezoned “Elephant Toilet”. There is literally one joke after the opening credits – in the late medieval village where children are mysteriously vanishing, the ye olde glass milk bottles have drawings of missing kids stuck to them – and that’s it. No more comedy, no more laughs, just the occasional crap “badass” one liner from Hansel (Jeremy Renner) or Gretel (Gemma Arterton) as they strut around in leather for 80 odd minutes without once seeming to be in the slightest bit of actual danger from the various evil witches messing up the joint.

There is a vague hint that somewhere back in the dim recesses of the film’s production history a story was briefly discussed – for starters, the evil witches led by Famke Janssen have some plan to do something when the moon does something it only does once in a feature film – but why bother having things happen for a reason when you can end every single conversation with an exploding head? Why bother laying down rules for what can happen in the film when it’s more fun to “surprise” the audience by just making shit up as you go? Hansel and Gretel are immune to magic except for the times when they’re not, all witches are evil except for the ones who aren’t, all monsters are bad except… you get the idea.

Director Tommy Wirkola (who couldn’t even make Nazi zombies work in Dead Snow) seems to have been distracted long enough from his passionate love of making heads explode to remember to pay off at least some of his film’s long-running gags – Hansel’s “sugar sickness” (he got diabetes from eating candy from the original fairy tale part of the story) does eventually prove slightly relevant – but even those pay offs feel half-arsed and provide no joy. This is a movie about witches and magic and fairy tales and its idea of a cool final battle is shooting off the heads of a bunch of witches with a machine gun. Yeah, that’s the power of imagination right there.

Renner comes out of this mess slightly better than Arterton because he’s able to at least suggest the bungling nice guy he’s meant to be playing, and because everyone calls him “Hansel” every chance they get in the desperate hope someone in the audience is a Zoolander fan; Arterton, on the other hand, seemingly can’t act at all. Both give performances that constantly suggest they’re looking at their watch the second the camera cuts away (Renner actually is wearing a watch – he’s got to know when to give himself his injections), while everyone else lets the mud they’re slathered with do the heavy lifting acting-wise. And why not? With dialogue like “I’m not going to kill you. Not now. Not like this”, actually bothering to give a performance would be wasting everyone’s time.

Every now and again this will reach half-heartedly for a joke, only to realise it only knows one joke – look, it’s something modern in the olden days – and it wasn’t that funny back when The Flintstones did it. The only other thing this film has to offer is the kind of garbled “action” that just involves stuff flying around the screen until someone’s head explodes. Film critics might be a snooty bunch of sour sad-faced clowns who only love darkness and misery, but even they know a complete waste of time when they see one.

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