What makes a big budget franchise film successful? Um, I dunno, but ask Joss Whedon who turned the world upside-down with The Avengers. Who would've thought that the scariest most indestructible being on Earth, The Hulk, would generate the most audience cheers?
Joss made a big budget action hero comic book flick fun. While Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is no Avengers, it does a fine job of setting up the characters as superheroes -- of a sort -- and paving the way for a scaled-down sequel in the future. HNG tries and succeeds at being fun. Like its fairy-tale predecessor, Snow White and the Huntsman, HNG is full of dark fantasy images. But unlike The Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel drapes the dark images of witch fantasy with cheeky, quip-filled, sensual play that helps the viewer avoid rolling his or her eyes at the silliness.
This is not your grandparents version of Hansel & Gretel. In fact, due to language and graphic violence this movie has an R-rating. The authors of this version essentially rewrote the longstanding fairytale most of the audience grew up hearing and set the world within the chaos of Salem-level witch paranoia. Like the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel find themselves the captives of a hungry flesh-eating witch, and somehow manage to escape. Unlike the fairy tale, however, the siblings find a higher purpose in their newly found witching-killing abilities and set about ridding the world of these gruesome evil beings. The proverbial plot twist reveals that the siblings' abilities did not come to them by accident, and their fate was planned, not by their parents, but by an evil Grand Witch.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is designed as much to make you chuckle as it is to make you oooo and ahhh at the better-than-average special effects. To that end, the movie is satisfactory eye-candy for fantasy film lovers who crave gruesome CG and make-up effects. For those who have no problem suspending disbelief, there are more than enough reasons to laugh at repetitive jokes and hokey action sequences.
Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen and Pihla Viitala are all believable in their respective roles as Gretel, Muriel (the witch) and Mina (good witch). If there is any weak link in this visual fair it is none other than Jeremy Renner. I thought Jeremy Renner was absolutely brilliant in, Ben Affleck's The Town. Since then, Mr. Renner has gone to perform beside Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, opposite Sam Jackson and Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers, and lastly, opposite Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Stacy Keach in The Bourne Legacy. Mr. Renner has definitely hit the big time, and I hear he is a super gracious journeyman actor. But he has never been as captivating and dynamic as he has been in The Town. In fact I find myself coaching him as I listen to the banal utterance of his lines, thinking, "You've could have done so much more with that line."
Nevertheless, not even Renner's one-note acting can squash the fun that this movie offers. I give it a mild recommendation with three stars.