Featuring Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Bourne Legacy), and Femke Janssen (Jean Grey in the X-Men film series, and The Wolverine), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is continuation to the German folklore fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” in which the titular siblings are now grown up and working as a duo of witch exterminators for hire.
According to The Guardian review:
These are dark days. The Oscars are over, and now morale doesn’t get any lower, as the very worst films are dumped ignominiously into cinemas like a vanload of cook-chill equine lasagnes delivered to schools and hospitals. This movie is a case in point. It’s a film which is so demeaningly bad, so utterly without merit, that there is a kind of purity in its awfulness. There is a Zen mastery in producing a film which nullifies the concept of pleasure.
The idea is that Hansel and Gretel, having evaded a horrible fate as children in the witch’s candy cottage in the woods, are now all grown up, and they have become super-cool kick-ass witch hunters – in a weirdly regressive sibling partnership – roaming the vaguely Germanic countryside armed with steampunky shotguns for the purposes of blasting witches with maximum violence. They are played with very little discernible talent by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. Peter Stormare phones in a bad-guy performance as some sort of a tyrannical mayor, and Famke Janssen plays an evil witch whose face is always turning into that of a hyper-real crone, a digital effect that succeeds in being uninteresting and depressing at the same time.
Watching this film, it is incredible to think that only recently I was raising niggling little objections to some minor things I wasn’t sure about in Argo or Beasts of the Southern Wild. I feel like a billionaire who has become poor overnight, remembering when I was not entirely happy with a certain type of champagne. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is so uncompromisingly rubbish that it is impossible to watch it without your rage and despair doubling with every minute that passes. You’ll feel like making all the Hollywood executives responsible stand up, like naughty schoolchildren, while you rage: “Which one of you greenlit this unspeakably bad film? We’re not going home until someone owns up.”
It manages to be nasty as well as dismal. There is a great deal of brutal violence, and people getting their noses broken and heads squished. Women are punched and kicked all the time. People also have an unpleasant habit of registering their surprise at something by saying things like: “You’ve gotta be shitting me” in a charmless way I haven’t experienced since the Matrix sequels.
How did Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters get to be this terrible? I suspect that it may possibly have started life as something rather different. Two of its executive producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and I wonder if the film was not originally conceived as some sort of high-concept comedy with the grownup witch hunters perenially squabbling among themselves? Oddly, the movie does begin with a halfway-decent gag: bottles of milk have crude line drawings of missing children on them, like milk cartons in modern-day America. It seems to belong to a rather different film. (And I can’t help remembering that Owen Wilson’s character in Zoolander is called Hansel.) Perhaps the film got changed somewhere along the line, comprehensively rejigged as a humourless fantasy action adventure.
Well, I’m clutching at theoretical straws here. Maybe it was just always like this. Basically, Hansel & Gretel is a film that does not neglect any opportunity to be abysmal. Gemma Arterton – who can be very good in the right part – has to play Gretel with a fantastically irritating, phoney, swaggering American accent, to match Jeremy Renner’s; baffling since everyone else has a sort of mittel-Europa-ish peasant voice, given that they live in somewhere called Augsburg. She is someone else who has this sadistic infatuation with violence, smirking at one of her victims that “it won’t be an open casket”.
The oddest thing about this movie is how it feels it has to give both leads some kind of romantic interest in order to nullify the creepy, incestuous impression. Hansel gets to go nude-bathing with a comely white witch, but all Gretel gets is a bizarre and platonic “beauty-and-the-beast” relationship with an ugly giant called Edward with a huge, misshapen head. Why? It doesn’t develop the plot in any interesting way whatsoever.
Well, there is something salutary about a film as appalling as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: it demonstrates the gravitational pull of terribleness that the good films heroically resist and rise above. The Oscars now seem a very, very long time ago.