Sparks turn to ash
reduces to ash all the supposed cleverness and hipness that has gone before and makes you wonder why on earth you came. Somehow it wouldn’t shock me if Vin Diesel was still around in 800 years. He’s just so durable. That’s the impressive length of time he’s been fighting the good fight in The Last Witch Hunter, an amusing enough supernatural action thriller directed by Breck Eisner ( Sahara, The Crazies).
Diesel is Kaulder, the witch hunter of the title. We first encounter him in a Game of Thrones- meets- Macbeth scene in which he has a showdown with the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht). He and his flaming sword seem to prevail, but there is a twist in that he’s rendered immortal, which is why he’s still the world’s top coven buster eight centuries later when the action moves to modern-day New York City.
We learn there has been a witch-human truce in place for some time. However there are always a few bad apples bent on wiping out humanity, which keeps Kaulder busy. Indeed it seems the practitioners of dark magic are planning a major evil event.
Kaulder reports to a religious-seeming organisation called The Axe and Cross, where his minder is known as Dolan. At the start of the film he’s been with the 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) for 50 years. But when Dolan 36 suffers a setback, Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood) takes over. Just like the Bush family really. Kaulder also meets a saucy good witch, Chloe (an appealing Rose Leslie, Jon Snow’s wilding lover in Game of Thrones.) Together this unlikely trio will face the forces of darkness.
There are some neat storylines explored here. I like the idea of peaceful witches living legally on Earth, taking selfies on their smartphones like everyone else. When we first meet Chloe she is running a hip witches-only bar. The establishment has not violated any codes, she tells Kaulder when he drops in, “there are no humans here’’.
Kaulder’s longevity is spun to good effect: he calls Caine’s Dolan “kid” and at one point admits: “Salem was wrong. Those women were innocent.’’ Diesel does the one-liners well enough, even if his smirk is in danger of creeping towards the Bruce Willis zone, and the disparity between his Kaulder and Wood’s Dolan adds an enjoyable physical comedy.
Yet while the script has its moments — a warlock spiking cakes with magic insects protests “It is not illegal to sell mind-altering bugs” — it is uneven and there are some real clangers. “She will never truly perish,’’ we are told of the Witch Queen, “’til her heart beats its last’’.
When it comes to the action-thriller element, it’s a bit light on, the set-piece witchfighting scenes too few and far between and rather blandly resolved. The violence is stylised, there’s no swearing or sex, but the supernatural elements might be a bit scary for younger children. I’d suggest 12-plus to err on the side of caution.