Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

Everyone likes a good fairy-tale, and by everyone I of course mean me.

So I was rather looking forward to a neat bounty hunting spin on the classic Grimm Brothers fable Hansel and Gretel.

Alas, Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t quite go according to script; and I’m, not even sure there was one.

It starts out as you’d expect, with the young siblings lost in a forest until they happen upon a house made entirely of gingerbread.

So Hansel and Gretel go inside, get captured by a witch who wants to eat them only they’re too scrawny so she force feeds them lots of sweet things to fatten them up.

Then the day comes when said gingerbread witch decides to eat them, but instead gets burnt alive by our resourceful young firestarter’s.

That much you already know, and you may have thought Hansel and Gretel lived happily ever after.

Well you’d be wrong, because they decide to use their ass kicking witch talents for the greater good and become bounty hunters instead.

Off around the world this sibling double act go, killing every witch or worse they happen across along their merry way, until fate or a convenient plot leads them back to their home town.

Now Hansel and Gretel must fight off some new witches causing havoc in a place they used to belong, as well as confronting a few demons from their own muddled past if they’re to get to that happy ending of theirs.

When I first heard about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I was sold on the idea of taking a classic fairy-tale and putting a modern cinematic twist on it for a new generation.

I’m probably in the minority, but I quite liked the fantasy and imagination of Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, and thought turning Hansel and Gretel into bounty hunters could be great if handled well.

Which is where Tommy Wirkola’s nu-metal reimagining of the witch burning kids falls down.

Charging off at breakneck speed, the Norwegian writer and director throws us headfirst into some death defying stunts accompanied by a pounding soundtrack as both Hansel and Gretel perform some superhuman slaying acts upon whatever monster they happen to be hunting today.

And that’s pretty much how things go for the next hour and a half, as any semblance of a coherent story gets left behind amongst all the 3D blood and thunder Wirkola seems hell-bent on crowbarring into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

There’s something about a blood moon ritual that’ll make some bad witches invincible, and the most generic of love stories imaginable tacked onto the now alpha male Hansel’s narrative arc, but that’s about it.

I still find it remarkable that film studios will bankroll big action films like this, pouring vast amounts of cash into creating some admittedly special, ah, special effects as well as assembling a talented ensemble cast, yet don’t give a damn about having a story to tell.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, action scenes only work if they’re believable and you care about the characters; Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters manages neither, because the action is way over the top and there’s simply not enough of a story to engage your brain.

There are some nice touches, like an early form of type 2 diabetes Jeremy Renner’s Hansel has developed as a result of his childhood run in with the gingerbread witch, and a Gemma Arterton shaped Gretel rolls around a lot in an eye popping outfit whilst shooting big guns.

Which was nice.

Famke Janssen vamps it up in a similarly skin tight number as the “bad” witch, Peter Stormare gets his nose bloodied as some mindless sheriff type and then there’s Edward; a Jim Henson type troll creature who provoked unintentional laughter whenever he opened his mouth or started making eyes at Gretel.

Any similarities with a similarly named character from the interminable Twilight saga are purely coincidental and highly amusing.

If you’re a thirteen year old boy, chances are Wirkola’s blood splattered Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters will be everything you’re looking for in a film.

If not, you’d be better off sticking with the original Brothers Grimm fairy-tale.

Jonathan Campbell

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February 2013
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