Perhaps more surprising than the fact that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters didn't screen before WW press deadlines is that critic AP Kryza found a fair bit to like.
Critic's Grade: B-
In Hollywood, fairy tales have become the new '70s/'80s TV shows, providing an endless well to which executives endlessly return for rehashed ideas. So far, so meh. We've had Kristen Stewart as an emo Snow White and Julia Roberts as an over-caffeinated glamour-priss queen. This spring, we get Jack and the Beanstalk. Even the great Terry Gilliam couldn't make it work when he tried to kick off the whole shitty movement in 2005 with The Brothers Grimm
, and that one had Matt Damon and Heath Ledger playing the storytellers as supernatural detectives.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, though, is a totally different monkey. This isn't some serious re-imagining of lore or a vanity project for an aging Hollywood queen. This is a big, dumb action flick soaked in geysers of blood, courtesy of two ultra-sexy, slumming actors delivering wooden one-liners and letting their steampunk weapons do the talking. Frankly, I'd take that over Roberts in Mirror Mirror any day.
Spring-boarding from the classic tale of gluttonous German kids who invade a witch's gingerbread house, then whack the evil cannibal broad, the film finds that Hansel (Jeremy Renner…he's so hot right now) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have grown up and developed, and now they’ve got a thing for tight leather as well as a knack for hunting, torturing and killing witches. They're so good they've become famous bounty hunters.
Naturally, that brings them to a village terrorized by Famke Janssen (whose agelessness seems magical in itself), a supreme witch collecting children for some stupid ritual or another. What ensues is a series of big battles, flying brooms, trolls, gratuitous nudity and other havoc. Oh, and lots of witches who know kung fu. Because kung fu is cool. Consider this The Gingerbread House of Flying Daggers.
Renner, Arterton and Janssen all look great, and they handle the physicality of their roles with relish (Arterton, in particular, seems to spend 99 percent of the film being pummeled), but it's obvious none of them really gives a shit. The person who does care is Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, making his American debut following the cult hit Dead Snow, which focused on an army of Nazi zombies terrorizing snowshoers. This is Wirkola's labor of love, and you can tell by the tiniest details—the "missing child" posters taped on old-time milk bottles, Hansel's development of type-2 diabetes from being force-fed candy—that the rookie poured his heart into the glorious trash bin. These flourishes add frosting to a pretty dense and tasteless cake.
Leaden story aside, Wirkola's main concern is action, and despite an extremely shoddy 3D conversion, the flick crackles with sadistic breathlessness. Wirkola's best known as the director who featured a man rappelling down a mountain using the intestines of a still-writing zombie, so here there seems to be a notion of cartoonish one-upmanship with nary a head's left on its neck. Bodies are eviscerated (sometimes into hundreds of pieces), limbs go flying and everything burns.
There are a lot of glossed-over and highly disturbing subtexts one could bring up in tearing apart this film (which most critics certainly will)—among them its rampant violence toward women and its extreme delight in destroying the human frame—but honestly, who the fuck cares? This is a gory confection that's deeply flawed, horrifically acted and utterly ridiculous, but nonetheless manages to be fun, which is something none of the other fairytale reimaginings of this new studio cash grab has managed. And disturbing content aside, there's nothing in this film more troubling than watching Roberts' self-love in Mirror Mirror.