‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ is big, dumb fun

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' — Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ — Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Except for the names of the title characters, there’s probably little in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters that resembles the original tale by the Brothers Grimm. This fast-paced, violent affair is the product of Hollywood and not thoughtful German storytelling. Still, even though it holds the Grimm name hostage, the movie has a lot of fun and features some impressive special effects. Lower your expectations (as far down as they’ll go) and you’ll end up enjoying this in-your-face fantasy adventure.

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the brother-sister witch hunters. After narrowly escaping the clutches of an evil witch as children (remember the original story with the candy house?), Hansel and Gretel apparently became world-renowned for their ability to track and kill the nasty creatures of the forest. The movie, written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, focuses on a small village terrorized by a head witch (Famke Janssen) and her evil sisters.

Beyond this simple premise, there’s not much plot in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. The villainess is clearly identified, as are the heroes. The rest of this action flick, coming in at less than 90 minutes, is for the two sides of the equation to match up time and time again until someone dies. Along the way, both Hansel and Gretel heat up the locals’ desire for some one-night flings. Peter Stormare shows up as the local sheriff, but the maliciousness of the witches overshadows his ill-advised intentions and character development.

The actual action is presented in a most exciting manner. The broomstick chases through the forest are fast and believable. The makeup on the witches is intricate and ugly. If as much work was put into the plot as it was put into the special effects and makeup, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters would be memorable.

Renner and Arterton are likable enough, although Renner seems to be going through motions to cash an easy paycheck — no humor, no seriousness, just blah. Arterton finds the humor behind the over-the-top plot, offering her lines with gusto. She’s playing the character like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the Sherlock Holmes films. There needs to be a little tongue in check. After all, we’re dealing with crossbows as if they were machine guns.

There’s far better movies from Hollywood, but there’s also far less entertaining. One of these days the film industry will bring these extremes together, and the Brothers Grimm will be given justice on the big screen.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

  • 2013

  • Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola

  • Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare

  • Running time: 88 minutes

  • Rated R

  • Rating: ★★½☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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