HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is wickedly delicious fun. Just check any desire for reality at the door.
January 2013 has turned into an exceptional month for new films. With releases like Gangster Squad, Broken City, and even Promised Land offering deeper, non-throwaway fare, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS arrives needing to prove its meddle to keep this surprising January run going. Luckily, the film does just that, delivering great action, a tight (albeit short) story, and solid acting by its stars.
Based on the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm fairy tale of the same name, HG:WH is basically Part 2 of the story, following the adventures of siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, Clash of the Titans) after they escape certain death during childhood to become prolific contract killers. Armed with an array of high-tech gadgetry (reminding one of 19th Century 007's) Hansel and Gretel find plenty of action - burnings, hangings, and beheadings follow, memorialized in newspaper reports which dominate the opening credits. The duo are soon contracted to defend the town of Augsburg who has lost 11 children to witch kidnappings, all of which seem to have no connection. The town's sheriff (Peter Stormare, Armageddon) doesn't buy into Hansel and Gretel's street cred, deciding to prosecute an accused witch (newcomer Pihla Viitala) without a trial. One broken nose and a concussion later, Berringer sends his own team out to find the children, but several are killed by the evil sorceress Muriel (Famke Janssen, X-Men Trilogy), who allows one surviving member to return to the town's tavern before exploding in front of the crowd. Such bloodfest is common in HG:WH, as the siblings dig deeper into the kidnappings by 'interrogating' witches along the way. When they learn that Muriel is planning to make all witches invulnerable during a ceremony involving the kidnapped children, Hansel and Gretel must sacrifice everything to stop Muriel before the region is plunged into total darkness.
Director/Writer Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) crafts a fairly vicious affair, complete with severed human heads, witch bodies torn through piano wire, and other gruesome employs. One might be led to believe that violence is all you get with HG:WH, and for the most part that's true. But, Wirkola and Co-Writer D.W. Harper insert smart humor and a little sexiness at propitious moments. There's also a critical side story explaining what happened to their parents, but the main play here is the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter-esque violence that looks at once to be totally unbelievable yet is still highly enjoyable. Perhaps it's due to the terrific 3D conversion (yes, I did say that) or the IMAX experience, but the element surrounding the suspension of disbelief plays a necessary role here, a fact which audiences should already be used to 'switching on.' Doing so opens the eyes to a wild visual fest complete with a troll named Edward, a witch gathering ala Star Wars cantina, and several very good highly-stylized action sequences. Wirkola gets the most out of Renner and Atherton, who grew on me as the film progressed (I disliked the previews, to be honest), while Janssen is a perfect mix of sultry and vicious in leading her victims to a cruel death. The music, courtesy of Composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator) and his Remote Control Productions protegee Atli Örvarsson (The Eagle), is well-crafted, marching to a pulsing witch killer soundtrack while Renner and Arterton slash their way to the film's dramatic conclusion. And while the film's 88-minute runtime is a bit short, it's a tightly focused with just enough character development to connect the bridges.
I heard critics last night complaining about the implausibility of the story - get real. You don't watch HG:WH for deep intellectualism, and the film has no intention of delivering it, instead bringing plenty of action, funny one-liners, and Edward the troll into the mix. If you liked Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing, HG:WH will certainly appeal to you. If your intent is to see the classic Grimm Fairy Tale retold as a sweeping epic of grand scale, spend your money elsewhere. Its summer blockbuster moniker is well-deserved, but don't let that keep you from seeing it in 3D and spending the extra cash if you can for IMAX. I promise you won't be disappointed. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is rated R for nudity, language, and witch ass-kicking violence and has a runtime of 88 minutes.
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