Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters exists on the possibility that people wanted to see the titular characters as gun-wielding badasses. This continues the trend of turning every benign and innocent story into some sort of action movie. On some level, the film seems to realize just how ridiculous that approach is, and subsequently offers just a hint of a more twisted sensibility. But for the most part, the movie stuck just trying to look cool. And that leads everything down a far more predictable path, echoing an endless string of movies before it.
Siblings Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) were abandoned in the woods by their parents years ago. They found their way to a witch’s house, and managed to defeat her. After that, the two dedicated their lives to killing off witches. Now, they find their way to a hamlet where children have been going missing. The two investigate, and stumble on to a cabal of witches planning a profane ritual in three days on the blood moon. And along the way, they discover something about their past that changes their understanding of their origins.
There is just a hint of irreverence skirting the edges of the movie, a silliness that indicates a dash of self-awareness in the proceedings. This, along with the over-the-top, R-worthy violence, is what sets the film apart from other films of its ilk. While Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman seemed utterly convinced that their reimaginings of these children’s tales into serious adult movies were worthy endeavors, Hansel & Gretel seems to be a little more aware of how ridiculous it all is, and adjusts by having a tad more fun. The movie introduces some light-heartedness into the mix, breaking up the monotony of action movie posturing.
It doesn’t quite go far enough, however. It still tries to squeeze in a fairly convoluted story that digs into the protagonists’ pasts, playing for emotions that just aren’t there. And the effects-heavy action sequences don’t quite carry the same spirit of fun, the film ultimately too clinical in cutting them together. The more effective action scenes recall the twisted sensibilities of a Sam Raimi movie, lingering in the grotesque and comedic. An overblown Zimmer score also serves to make the film feel more bombastic than it really is. The film can’t quite pick a tone, and the result feels more generic than it ought to be. The cast can feel similarly indistinct. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are mostly made to play stoic, even when delivering wisecracks. They are two more dour antiheroes in a landscape littered with them. The two certainly have more personality than this, and it might have been more interesting to just show them having fun. Famke Janssen is also a bit held back as the villain of the piece. It’s really only Peter Stormare and Thomas Mann in the supporting cast who really give this film a kick of flavor and personality.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is occasionally fun, but as a whole, it isn’t committed enough to its own silliness to really pop. The hints of self-aware comedy and over-the-top violence suggest that the film could have been a Raimi-esque romp. But in the end, it mostly settles for the predictable dour coolness of the modern-day, effects-heavy action movie. The movie is still better than it has any right to be, but that isn’t really saying much, given the overall silliness of the premise.