Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

If Hansel and Gretel would have realized who their mother was, Hansel would never have said, “The only good witch is a dead witch.”

Rating: Really should be seen in a movie theater because of the wonderful special effects. Besides, you can then overcome the profound embarrassment of admitting that you took the time to watch it at home.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersAs most of you know, I was hospitalized in October, 2011 for over three weeks after suffering a head injury resulting from being struck by a motorcycle while crossing College Avenue at 54th Street here in Indianapolis. I spent the last ten days at RHI on Indianapolis’ west side.

Though I don’t know if the doctors and therapists at RHI feel the same way, I ended up having a great time there. One of my favorite moments occurred late in my stay, when I was reading a history book while waiting for a friend. When I looked up and saw my reflection in the window, I simply mumbled, “Jesus Christ!” Suddenly I heard my friend yell, “What are you complaining about?” I responded as follows,

“Complaining? I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years, only now to be hospitalized with a severe head injury. How in God’s name am I ever going to convince all the Judges and Prosecutors I know that I am not mentally ill?”;

He immediately started laughing, and I snapped, “You find that funny?”, to which he responded, “Yes, and so should you. Hell, nearly everyone thought you were mentally ill before the accident anyway!”;

Embracing that moment, I’m afraid that mental illness could be the only justification for the reason I truly enjoyed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. I took my foreign exchange student, Thamer, as my cinematic security blanket, but it turned out that we both had a fun, comic time.

How could a film about two fairy tale heroes of the Middle Ages possibly find traction when they somehow make use of converted machine guns and other weapons centuries before they were invented? Given that the film is rated R, how could there possibly be any joy in what has to be complete cinematic nonsense?

Well, take it from a guy who adamantly claims that I have recovered from my brain injury that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is wildly entertaining. It is dark, brutal, at times spectacularly violent, sardonic and deliciously scary. The special effects, which are repeatedly used to create some nasty witches, are first-rate in every respect.

Equally surprising, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton embody Hansel and Gretel in a fashion that wins you over from the time they first appear on the screen. Rather than impersonate either a younger Arnold Schwarzeneger or Angelina Jolie, there is nothing hammy about their performances. They exist for one reason, namely to hunt down and kill witches, and their manic determination leaves you with the feeling that they must be related to the Harbaugh brothers who will be coaching in this week’s Super Bowl.

The movie only lasts a little over 1 hour and 30 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about an intricate plot. Hansel and Gretel are both haunted by memories of being abandoned in the woods as young children by their parents. Regardless, they vividly remember their close escape from the dinner plate of a hungry witch, and their lives are dedicated to simply getting even. Unfortunately, the local populace fears anything that moves in the dark, and the collective approach of these deranged people in eliminating the dangers of witchcraft is to execute anyone suspected of being one of those nasty women, right or wrong.

In the midst of all this, Hansel and Gretel take on the queen of all brutal witches, in this case sensationally played by Pihla Viiatla. Impersonating a human, this was one attractive hag, but when she turned mean, everyone was in trouble. She and her cohorts were in the present habit of stealing the town’s children, and they were about to celebrate a ceremony that I don’t dare describe.

On top of that, a few giant trolls enter the picture. One, known as Edward, turns on his broom flying coven after developing a bit of an attraction to Gretel. This proves to be extraordinarily important, as who wouldn’t want a troll at your side if a witch had designs on your heart.

Jeremy Renner is an intriguing actor, and he brings credibility to the film with his role as Hansel. He is building a first class resume, which in part includes his great contribution to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008); his strong role in Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010); his contribution to the surprisingly good Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), and last years’ The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. He was the principal reason I couldn’t let Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters pass, and I remain glad I made that decision.

And Ms. Arterton is not to be ignored either. A British subject, she is proving to be a sexy menace in such action films as Quantum of Solace (2008); Clash of the Titans (2010), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). As Gretel, the movie ends with her standing over a diabolical, captured witch, and as she prepares to kill her, simply says, “Sorry, but don’t expect an open casket.” You gotta love this woman.

I should also point out that Ms. Famke Janssen gives a strong supporting performance as Muriel, a woman with a hidden secret who falls in love with Hansel. While I didn’t like the Taken films (2008 and 2012), despite her hard-nosed performances, she stood out in the original three X-Men films (2000, 2003 and 2006) as the mysterious and tormented Jean Grey.

Though you might be tempted to take kids under the age of 16 to see some R rated films, and Lord knows I have danced to that music before, this is not one of them. No, it’s not because of the violence, although Director Tommy Wirkola’s (he also was the screenwriter) Hansel and Gretel repeatedly get the crap beat out of them throughout the film. At times, they are so viciously mauled that you wonder if either can possibly stand up and join the action. But hey, it sure ain’t easy living the life of a witch hunter.

The real reason to dodge this film with teenagers under 16 is the language, which is flowery, fun and profoundly and repeatedly profane. The “F” word is used to great effect by both Hansel and Gretel, although I would hate to encourage young teenagers to think that was always cute. Put another way, it may not be bad language to use when a witch sought to disembowel you, but it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to use at or near a school.

Finally, we all know that January through the first two weeks of March is usually the dead zone in a movie theater. Clearly, Hollywood releases borderline films during this period of time with the hope that they catch on and make a few million dollars over a couple of weeks. Having said that, a few films rise above the clutter and capture your imagination for what appears to be unintended reasons. Parker, which I just reviewed, is one of them, and so is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Go see it and see what you think. I’ll rent my foreign exchange student out to you, so you will at least have his enthusiastic company. But even if you don’t like it, don’t try to blame me. Didn’t I tell you that I am mentally ill?