The Last Witch Hunter: Good Speculative Fiction Fun

072115 Chris Banner

The Last Witch Hunter opened last week to mixed reactions. The critical reviews were terrible. In many media outlets the film critics seem to have a contest about who could make the smarmiest comments about the film and its fans. Yet the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy web sites and blog pages created by fans of the genre loved it. The comment sections on these fan sites, and even on articles “blasting” the movie, are overwhelmingly positive. Once again it leads into that interesting realm of a genre film that fans love and professional movie critics love to hate.

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The Last Witch Hunter film was born out of a discussion about Dungeons and Dragons that Vin Diesel had with Cory Goodman, who went on to write the screenplay with Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Diesel is well known for his enjoyment of D&D. In fact, you can see him play as Kaulder, his character from The Last Witch Hunter, here.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.40.31 PMKaulder is an immortal witch hunter who must team up with a modern day witch (Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones) to stop an ancient plague from ravaging New York City. Throw in Michael Caine and Elijah Wood as priests assigned to help Kaulder in his tasks, elemental and dark magic, secret societies, and all types of fight scenes ranging from old-school action to CGI enhanced, and you have a speculative fiction film.

A review on WIRED, a forum for people who like science fiction, horror, steampunk, and other works of speculative fiction, calls the movie “just damn fun” as it highlights physical action, elemental magic, and, of course, Kaulder’s magic flaming sword. On I09, another speculative fiction site, Charlie Jane Anders writes:

“Diesel is just kind of enjoying being an immortal badass who keeps the world safe from the abuse of magic powers. There are the requisite hints that he wants to die and that he’s tired of this curse of eternal life, but he spends remarkably little time wallowing in self-pity.”

It is refreshing to see an immortal character who is not experiencing what Douglas Adams termed “the long, dark, teatime of the soul.”*

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Films that share common characteristics to The Last Witch Hunter, like John Wick, Van Helsing, Blade, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters—all speculative fiction genre films—have been criticized for their popular and commercial appeal. Too often it seems like film critics attack the audience members for their bad taste in enjoying this type of film. For example, Rotten Tomatoes described it on their website as “grim” and a movie that “will bore and/or confuse all but the least demanding action fantasy fans.” So if a viewer enjoys the movie, according to the site, then he/she must not expect much from a film. In other words, reviews like this posit that there is something wrong with the viewer who enjoys the film.

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“Watching The Last Witch Hunter is like sitting by while someone else plays a game whose coolness eludes us” writes Bilge Ebiri, and perhaps this lack of understanding is part of the reason for the attitude of a lot of film critics. They have no critical vocabulary with which to talk about these types of films without being condescending, and therefore no aesthetic criteria by which to judge. So they attack the viewers who enjoy the genre—who already understand and appreciate “the game”—and expect those viewers to feel ashamed for enjoying a movie.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.39.37 PMAlthough it will come as no surprise to readers of this series, and readers of my blog, I am a fan of this type of movie. When the trailer first popped up on my Twitter feed, I believe I exclaimed “Woo Hoo!” and pumped a fist into the air. I’m a Geek and proud of it. So here is my review: Is it a movie worth watching? Yes. Will I purchase it on DVD? You bet. Would I recommend it to my friends who like speculative fiction films? Heck yes. Does everyone have to agree with me? Not on your life.

We all enjoy things that other people don’t understand or appreciate, and that diversity is a reason for celebration.

•In The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul, Douglas Adams pens the following line: “I’ve had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies.” Let that image soak in for a moment while I admit that this is one of my favorite novels.

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References

Anders, C.J. (2015). The Last Witch Hunter is the most amazing guilty pleasure in ages. I09. Retrieved from http://io9.com/the-last-witch-hunter-is-the-most-amazing-guilty-pleasu-1738222593

Ebiri, B. (2015). The Last Witch Hunter creates an intriguing world but doesn’t do anything with it. Vulture Devouring Culture. Retrieved from http://www.vulture.com/2015/10/last-witch-hunter-review-a-fun-world-wasted.html#

The Last Witch Hunter. (2015). Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_last_witch_hunter/

Vin Diesel’s The Last Witch Hunter is as Good as it Sounds. (2015). WIRED. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2015/10/last-witch-hunter-video-review/

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