If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big...mess. The delayed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters proves more sour than sweet...
Years ago, young ankle-biters Hansel and Gretel were taken out to the woods by their father and left there. The children never saw him or their mother again.
They survive the attention of a witch and her cottage made of candy, ultimately outsmarting and killing the hag with the kind of opportunism, cunning and inappropriate use of a furnace that would make Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl proud. Cut several decades to the medieval 'present' and the orphans have become infamous killers of all things demonic, traversing the land and smiting monsters. Hired by a mayor, the siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) turn up in a town and save a young woman from being burned at the stake by an egotistical sherrif (Peter Stormare) but quickly realise there may be more going on. Eleven children have already been taken and now Hansel and Gretel themselves may be targets... with a big secret that goes back to their childhood.
With the Nazis-on-ice romp Dead Snow, director Tommy Wirkola proved you could have some over-the-top fun with an under-the-bonnet budget but sadly, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is proof positive that a mere increase in budget alone will not raise a movie to blockbuster status. The problem here is this is an inherently lazy film, Wirkola done few favours by the amount of money thrown at him and then spent on everything but the essentials. The much-delayed project, originally due for release in early 2012, suffers from being merely a set of set-pieces loosely sewn together without the use of any real internal logic, a movie that presumes the audience won't notice its flaws. However it's hard to miss them..
The titular characters - bearing about as much connection to their fairy-tale source material as, say, Tarantino's efforts do to historical accuracy - are two-dimensional archetypes in a film that relies far too much on its 3D effects to save it. Hansel and Gretel's exploits and abilities are supposed to be legendary but the adventures we see them in seem to follow a set pattern of them getting beaten to within an inch of their lives and then getting in a lucky shot. These are trackers SO immensely 'talented' that they are oblivious to the fact that for the last half of the film they are actually back in the area in which they spent their formative years "You've got to be sh*tting me!" say both characters independently when they each discover the original sweet-house on their doorstep and a witch's cavern underneath the floorboards of their old home. It's a crude sentiment echoed by the audience.
Equally, that swearing (a fair sprinkling of the 'f' word and some ripe language towards the women) seems out of place - the profanity punctuates the action but feels as if some executive wanted the film to be more 'edgy' and added the swearing in ADR for no good reason. Sitting at a compromised '15' certificate, it's far too bloody for kids (with moments of actual pure violent nastiness sitting uncomfortably alongside more comical fighting) but ultimately too bloody boring for adults. With flying beasties, quai-modern contraptions (look out for ye olde tasers, crash-carts, pseudo diabetes/insulin analogies and scrap-books), a blood-moon crossed with an eclipse (that appears to take place about thirty seconds before dawn?) and nods to modern-day celebrity culture, it's all a mish-mash of meta-based metaphors without any real form except the spectacle of chaos. It makes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter look like, well, Lincoln and as if the bad bits of Van Helsing got the Eli Roth treatment. And there weren't THAT many good bits in Van Helsing.
The usually capable Jeremy Renner (SO much better in The Hurt Locker, The Town and even in his limited screen time in The Avengers) and Gemma Arterton (much more impressive in the gentle octogenarian dramedy Song for Marion, also out in cinemas this month) walk through proceedings and count the pay-cheque, but while they hold up their end of the action, any sense of faux momentum is only created by a mix of quick-cutting techniques and slo-mo formats that can't fully disguise the obvious use of wire-work and CGI. Famke Janssen vamps it up as a big bad witch, but she too seems at the mercy of corny dialogue and rampant CGI'ing of her face at the whim of the plot. Peter Stormare, an added bonus to any movie, eats the scenery with aplomb, but he is far from serviced by a script that clearly wasn't a priority. Frankly, I liked him better in all two minutes of the Wonder Woman promo. Indeed, the supporting cast seem there only to die grisly or illogical deaths, flash a bit of flesh and crack a one-liner.
You can get away with a lot when the audience thinks you're making the most of a shoestring budget or releasing a cut-price DVD. When you have an estimated budget north of $50m and a cinema screen to fill, viewers will be much less forgiving of your blatant short-cuts. 2013 has a potentially strong line-up of films for the discerning Impact fan. However with this and A Good Day to Die Hard in quick succession, it looks as Hollywood feels they can throw anything at the screen as long as it has a star, a budget and a body-count, hoping to 'fix it in post' (and then somehow forgetting to). Coming out of the movie it's hard not to feel depressed by just how dated and amateur it all feels.
As brain-numbing candy, this might just pass as non-discerning beer-and-pizza party viewing fodder, but otherwise it's all too easy to see why this fairy-tale was delayed for so long and eventually dumped in the early months of the year.
It turns out to be a trip to the woods that is far too full of splinters. A Grim fairy-tale to be sure. But not in a remotely good way.