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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D IMAX | Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen, Gemma Arterton | Review

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Hanzel & Gretel, the siblings from one of the Brothers Grimm most popular children's fairytales, get a new spin in this mish mash fantasy adventure starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton.  Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) took plenty of creative license and transformed the innocent young bother and sister into fierce, adult witch hunters hell bent on tracking and killing their prey.

Hanzel & Gretel's hatred for witches goes back to one night, when as children, they were taken into the forest by their father and abandoned for some reason, that is later brought to light.  Drawn to a cottage made of candy, they soon enter and find themselves trapped by an evil witch but are able to save themselves by throwing her into a fiery oven to burn to death.  

Fast forward years later, Hanzel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton), now grown into adults have become famous as heroic bounty hunters, armed with pistols, rifles, a semi-automatic crossbow and hand cranked taser.  When several children are discovered missing from the village of Augsberg, the Mayor (Rainer Bock) hires Hanzel and Gretel to do what the antagonistic sheriff (Peter Stormare) has failed to do, seek out and destroy the witch responsible for the kidnapping of the youngsters whose lives are in danger.

Hansel and Gretel soon learn that the children's kidnapping is connected to the approaching Blood Moon which will draw the largest gathering of witches, for what they deem their “greatest Sabbath of all”.

As they search for the dark and powerful Great Witch (Famke Janssen), who has the ability to change her facial appearance from hideous to beautiful, the brother and sister act, ready, willing and able to kick ass, get some help from an obsessed young fan of their work (Thomas Mann), and a pretty damsel (Pihla Viitala) that the pair saved earlier after she was accused of being a witch.  There is also a Troll named Edward, (Derek Mears, hidden behind heavy prosthetic makeup and body suit) who comes in handy after he forms an unlikely bond with the comely Gretel.

The film was shot two years ago, but remained on the shelf until now, January, when new releases are not exactly the crème of the crop and there isn't any real competition. In any case, this movie fails to impress. The tongue and cheek dialogue, attempt at humor, and repetitive dropping of the F-bomb, which seems totally out of place, all fall flat.  Shot and released in 3D, the format is somewhat effective, especially for viewers who enjoy watching swords, exploding heads, and other dismembered body parts appear to be flying off the screen and into your face.

Wirkola focuses more on the action and gore than presenting an intriguing twist on the classic storybook tale. As a result audiences get plenty of fight sequences and bloody violence,  where its par for the course that our heroes get beaten up, thrown against walls, fall from heights and yet walk away with barely a scratch, as if invincible. Although the film is filled with anachronisms, there are a few clever elements injected such as dialogue that pays homage to other fairytales such as The Three Little Bears, missing children's pictures on old fashioned milk bottles, and Hanzel needing to inject himself with insulin to ward off the effects of diabetes as the result of eating too much candy back when he was in the clutches of that mean and deadly witch.

Janssen reportedly took her role because she was in a financial bind and needed the paycheck. That said, she does a good job of playing the quintessential wicked witch under all that horrendous makeup. Arterton is fine as the bad ass femme, even though any number of actresses could have easily filled that role.  But, two time Oscar nominee Renner,  is not only unable to rise above the material, he seems miscast as well as looking nothing like the actress playing his sister.

In the end, this ho hum re-imagined tale makes the case that more often than not, it is better to leave well enough alone.  After all, we already know from the original story that you should never mess with Hanzel and Gretel.  I expect you will come to that conclusion long before the 88 minutes are up.

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