Think Army of Darkness rather than Van Helsing, an R-rated version of the famous Brothers Grimm tale that’s a bit of ridiculous fun.
After being led by their father into the woods as children, Hansel and Gretel discover a house made of candy and cake owned by a witch. After foiling the witch’s plan to eat them, the siblings get a taste for killing witches and embark on a career to rid the world of their kind. Years later, the adult Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) investigate a series of child disappearances in a fearful village, but what they discover could be their undoing as the mystery of their past finally catches up to their present.
While the trailers suggest a takes-itself-too-seriously Van Helsing clone, this film is well aware of how silly the premise actually is. Rather than stoop to slapstick, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters instead creates a world unique to the characters that inhabit it while mirroring the pop culture of our own. The weapons are impossible, but then, so are witches, so the production compromises on that idea. In addition, the film is full of interesting little touches, such as Hansel becoming diabetic from being force-fed too many sweets and a perfectly plausible reason why the siblings have any chance against beings that hurl destructive spells on a whim. It’s a bizarre amalgamation that it ultimately works if just barely.
Two issues that plague the production are translocation and character focus. Similar to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, there is almost an intentional blurring of where the characters are at any time. What makes this stand out is how often they run into places they are already familiar with; it seems like less of a surprise when you’d think that characters who travel quite often appear to have no idea where they’re going. Also, a scene where Renner’s character is seduced feels out of place considering his bond with his sister (who’s missing and possibly dead), and there isn’t much in a way of either dialogue or anything else to make it seem less than the gratuitous scene it is.
As witch hunting siblings taking as much punishment as they dish out, Jeremy Renner delivers another “wounded soldier” (will no one ever hire him to play anything else?) while Gemma Arterton sinks her teeth into a foul-mouthed kick-ass grrl that’s often scarier than her brother. Famke Jensen plays the grand witch and big bad of the story, but she seems underused and almost demands more screen time. This film is easily a guilty pleasure film simply for the fun it pokes at pop culture and other similar fantasy action films. Purists and “flim buffs” will want to steer clear of this to avoid its taint, but if you’re feeling the need for over-the-top Timur Bekmambetov action sequences (think Wanted) mixed in with a Terry Gilliam kind of world (think The Brothers Grimm), Hansel and Gretel has your fix.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)