Sometimes, Hollywood works in mysterious ways. It’s inexplicably both cynical and cyclical. For some reason, Hollywood’s latest craze has been to adapt well known fairy tales. Film (Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood) and TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) are sweeping through every classic Grimm Brothers story. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an example of how this plan can falter.
Renner & Arterton.
If you can’t stand the film’s premise – or even its ridiculous title – than be warned. The film itself is somehow a hell of a lot sillier. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as we all know, survived a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a witch. In this version, their childhood survival tale inspired them to scour the lands for witches and dark magic. Celebrated for their witch hunting abilities, they wonder into a small town with their egos and weapons in hand. The disappearance of 11 children has prompted a state of panic throughout the cursed realm. These kidnappings are the work of terrifying witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Hansel and Gretel soon realise there is more to this case than they ever could’ve imagined.
Taking this small story and fleshing it out is a brave idea. The story of Hansel & Gretel is one of the world’s most popular fairy tales. What is left, however, is a movie that tries too hard to cater to everyone’s desires. The film was pushed back from January 2012 to February 2013. This is never a good sign. The film, however, is not anywhere near as bad as it could, or possibly should, be. This is definitely a schlocky 21st century action flick. With this type of production, the film-makers have to convince the audience to look beyond the original idea. Last year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter failed to live up to any kind of low-brow expectations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, has done the best it can with dodgy material. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has proven himself to be a passionate film-maker. His surprise smash hit, Dead Snow, mixed two contrasting ideas- Nazis and Zombies. Here, he has swung for the fence. Trying his luck with both Hollywood and a much bigger budget, his latest effort is a mix of enjoyable and disastrous. It’s a hyper-violent and gratuitous 88 minutes. Expletives, nudity and blood splatters cover the screen at every turn. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a darkened twist on the legend, but still not a very inventive one.
Hansel & Gretel in action!
This is a buddy-action flick that should be enjoyed with a $10 mega-bucket of popcorn. Wirkola’s direction shows off a kinetic and glorious sense of style. He has a child-like vision for every setting and costume at his disposal. He was clearly inspired by Spanish master director Guillermo del Toro. The forest and village settings, for example, provide a dark aesthetic for this farcical adventure. Meanwhile, the anachronisms in this fantasy-actioner are laughable. This film is all over the map in multiple ways. The accents oddly range between American, British and ‘European’. Perhaps he was thinking that no one would notice. Even more noticeable is the materialistic touch every leather-clad costume and weapon is given. Their arsenal is light-years ahead of the film’s period setting. Fold-out rifles, chain-guns, stun guns and even defibrillators are all on display. So too is Van Helsing’s notorious crossbow gun. It’s easy to point out the stupidity of the whole thing. Wirkola understands this issue whilst providing an unapologetic and energetic B-movie. In fact, one could argue that this is the new Van Helsing – stupid, schlocky and star-studded. The script, however, has more holes than a severed head. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) producing, you would think the comedic elements would work. Instead, one-liners and comedic moments fall flat. The film lacks a necessary balance between tongue-in-cheek and straight-faced (see del Toro’s Hellboy series for a definitive example of how this should work).
“I hate to break this to you, but this isn’t gonna be an open casket.” (Gretel (Gemma Arterton), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).
One of many witches here.
Buddy-action flicks rely, to a certain extent, on the charisma of their actors. This is where the film marginally succeeds. In every scene, Renner looks like he doesn’t want to be there. When he delivers his lines, however, he displays why he is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Posing and smashing his way through every scene, he is still a likeable and convincing leading man. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia) is an underrated actress. Her ethereal beauty and soft voice light up the screen. She fares better than Renner here, proving she can compete with other female stars at the box office. Renner and Arterton’s chemistry distracts from the thin characterisation. Hansel and Gretel are your typical crime-fighting duo. They pose and fight with style whilst contrasting one another. Renner can play a cynical bad-ass better than most A-list actors. His version of Hansel is a predictably disturbed hero. Complete with an ailment that comes up more than once in the story. Meanwhile, Gretel is the optimistic presence. Her run in with a deluded fan-boy (Thomas Mann) is particularly charming. Mann, Janssen and Stormare become caricatures in this already over-the-top blockbuster.
Films like Shrek and Pans Labyrinth have already conquered this sub-genre. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a senseless yet enjoyable mix of dumb, dumber and dumbest. Even while relishing its opportunities, the film is still excessive and clichéd.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzjia
Release date: October 5th, 2013
Distributors: EuropaCorp Distribution, 20th Century Fox
Running time: 91 minutes
Best part: Liam Neeson.
Worst part: Poor action set-pieces.
In 2008, Taken became a worldwide box office success and critically acclaimed French-American thriller. It turned into a surprise hit for contemporary action cinema and changed the career of now 60 year old veteran actor Liam Neeson. The original’s comfort food-like enjoyability not only created Neeson’s current action hero status but was a rare win for French action cinema great Luc Besson. As it was several notches above most contemporary action schlock with Besson’s name on it as co-writer and producer, it was inevitable that a sequel would occur. Unfortunately, Taken 2 becomes what everyone feared the original was going to be.
This clinical and forgettable action flick takes the fun out of the original, turning a gritty look at Eastern Europe into a much bigger yet blander Hollywood-ised follow up. This time, the string of slimy Albanian mafia members murdered by Bryan Mills (Neeson) in the original are now being laid to rest. Mafia boss and father of one of Mills’ victims (Serbedzjia) vows vengeance on his son’s murderer. Joining Mills in Turkey, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are still trying to move on from Kim’s abduction. But the mafia soon catches up to them, leaving the resourceful Mills and his family to escape their captors and destroy the avenging European villains once and for all.Continuing Neeson’s busy year after The Grey, Wrath of the Titans and Battleship, Taken 2 is an unoriginal, disappointing and dull action thriller. Borrowing elements from influential action thrillers and directors from the past decade, what is left is a shadow of the subtle yet violent original.
Tony Scott’s frayed visuals and grunge soundtrack are replayed over and over, without creating a suitable tone for every dirt covered setting and brutal murder. Along with blatantly borrowing two songs from last year’s Drive soundtrack, Director Olivier Megaton (one of Besson’s regulars with The Transporter 3 and Columbiana to his credit) sorely replaces brutality with scale, decreasing the emotional and visceral impact of the low budget original. With the original effectively focusing on the European mafia’s sex and drug trafficking trades, the sequel quickly falls into generic revenge thriller territory. Neeson’s ageing anti hero and overly protective father searching for his daughter created a scary yet affable character for Neeson’s dramatic talents. The new film repeats several of Mills’ ‘particular set of skills’, not only simplifying his awareness of every street corner and sound but blandly flashing back to already witnessed events. Despite Neeson’s usual charisma, his character here is little more than a generic Bourne-like action hero. The family’s problems cover the first 40 minutes of this boring pseudo-remake. What should be discussed about their previous overseas travels is only touched on in flashback, instead discussing uninteresting quarrels such as Kim’s driving lessons. The film from this point on is a xenophobic and excessive look at European culture. Turkey apparently contains nothing but mob informants on every corner and a serious lack of competent authorities.
“I have to make sure these people never bother us again in our lives.” (Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken 2).
The implausibilities of every situation are fun to point out, yet take more of the realism away from this relatively low key thriller. The seemingly unlimited number of European villains are continually mowed down by Neeson with relative ease. While the instructions given to his daughter running around Istanbul quickly extend to unsubtle heroic actions, particularly involving grenades going off in broad daylight. The action sequences, though choreographed with a realistic and bone-crunching style, suffer from quick cuts, confusing digital strobing effects and shaking cameras. Taking away from the brutality and impact of the original, the bloodless and confusing action sequences are the result of Taken 2 being sorely cut down to fit the film’s inexplicable M15+ rating. While the film’s climactic Bourne Supremacy-like taxi cab chase is edited too tightly around every twist and turn through Istanbul’s narrow streets. Luckily, the performances save this generic actioner from being completely interminable. Neeson pulls off the heroic secret agent role with a balance of ferocity and charm. Grace steps up to the role of her parent’s saviour with vulnerability. While Janssen and Serbedzjia are underused in important roles.
Ultimately, the film takes too long to decide what it wants to do. With an uneven pace and one generic twist and turn after another, what is left is very little to recommend and a classic example of sequelitis. Dear Mr. Neeson, please pick better material!