Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

If Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters just mixed brutal violence with slapstick violence I don't know that I would automatically compare it to Army of Darkness (or really, any of the Evil Dead Trilogy.) But then it also switches up the hero's reaction to the fantasy foes he's fighting, alternating between a frightened "oh shit!" and an exasperated "you've got to be kidding me!" - another hallmark of the Raimi films. But what really tips this over the line from generic winking fantasy to a film that's actively endebted to Army of Darkness is the weaponry: while a lot of it feels like generic steampunk anachronistic futuristic technology, every time Hansel aimed his shotgun-looking weapon at a witch I halfway expected him to refer to it as his "boomstick".

The problem is that Army of Darkness does a much better job of juggling it's tone than this does. Basically, Army of Darkness is a comedy - a bloody comedy, one that ends in an epic battle between good and evil - but a comedy nonetheless. Hansel and Gretel, however, is a lot less consistent about when throws in goofy touches, sometimes throwing in a clever idea (Hansel ate so much of the candy-house he has diabetes!) and other times just being generic (let's shoot a Gatling Gun full of magic bullets at the coven!) I'm not entirely sure that Jeremy Renner would have been good at delivering the sort of deadpan one-liners that make Army so fun, but it's a moot question because Hansel and Gretel's script doesn't give him any good lines. It tries a few times - his reaction to being showered with blood after the witches send in a human time bomb to the bar he's drinking in is pretty deadpan - but there are huge stretches of the film that are simply boiler plate CGI spectacle.

It's a shame, because the film really leaves a lot on the table. In the opening scene we see a young Hansel and Gretel discovering a house made out of candy and tentatively taking a bite. It's a moment that a more clever film would have capitalized on: the idea of eating a candy house sounds relatively sane on paper, but it's insane to look at in practice. These kids are well past the stage infants go through where they don't know what is and isn't food unless they taste it, so clearly they were eating shingles because they thought it was food, even though it is clearly a fucking domicile. They've been on their own for a few hours and they've already forgotten what's edible and what isn't? What would their father say if he double backed to tell them one last thing and caught them chewing sugary drywall? "Hey, you dumb-dumbs, shit that's just sitting around in the woods probably isn't sanitary to eat!"

Or: the main witch they are fighting needs her spell to happen during "the blood moon" which only happens "once a generation". That sort of arbitrary time frame is such a cliche in movies that feature magic that even acknowledging that it was a cliche with one knowing line would have made it go down easier. An actually funny movie could have constructed a Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead type situation about what the witches do while they are waiting for that generation to pass. What sort of time wasting do they do while waiting for the decades to pass? Baby snatching, sure, but gingerbread masonry? Solitaire?

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters ended up being something that was totally fine without being any good. It will entertain people that like fantasy movies without necessarily impressing them. I doubt it will offend them, either. There are several points where you can see how a left turn would have made it more interesting, but then again, it's competent action scenes could have been a lot worse, too. Sure, a lot of people will enjoy it if they throw it on - but somehow I can't imagine that people will be hounding Jeremy Renner in twenty years to ask him about Hansel and Gretel 2, the way people still hound Bruce Campbell about Evil Dead 4.

Winner: Draw

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters on IMDB