If you want to crush on pretty actresses and watch heads get blown off, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is an acceptable choice. If, on the other hand, you want an eerie and memorable re-envisioning of the Brothers Grimm classic that preserves the mystique of old German storytelling, this won’t satisfy.
The trick to creating adult characters renowned for their childhood adventures is to find the character flaws in their childhood selves and express how those peculiarities might develop in the personalities of the fully-fledged incarnations. The movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” didn’t bother with couching personality into its leads — there’s no time for character development when witches are afoot!
Hansel (Jeremy Renner, “The Avengers”) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, “Quantum of Solace”) are flatline badasses. And if you’re a 13-year-old boy, that’s A-OK. This is a shame though, because the film is rated R, so the only audience for whom it would be a desirable experience is categorically banned from seeing it. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is exactly the kind of movie my middle-school self would’ve enjoyed sneaking into, but then, my middle-school self didn’t understand why Sum 41 wasn’t more famous than the Beatles. Grain of salt.
Jeremy Renner seems to have trouble finessing the role of a gun-toting meathead with a thousand-yard stare, which is strange, because the typecast isn’t new to him. Conversely, the wonderful Arterton balances her stone-cold demeanor against her empathy for the troll, Edward (Derek Mears, “The Aggression Scale”), with a delicacy rarely exhibited by The Hollywood Heroine, whose physical power is so often shown to belie her femininity, rather than accent it. Also, honestly, the fan service helps. Gretel’s got a fine set of Hansels.
And the fan service doesn’t end with Gretel. Mina, played by a redheaded Pihla Viitala (who is as roaringly sexy as her Finnish name suggests) throws herself at Hansel to become the film’s single love interest. The filmmakers even contrive a sex scene, which, taken by itself, is very well acted. The initial kiss beats anything seen in the “Twilight” movies.
This film is violent, puerile and depressingly unoriginal given the endless potential of any Brothers Grimm expansion, but even if Hansel looks comically macho with his huge gun resting on his shoulder, and even if the script and plot are made of Swiss cheese, the slashy, sexy bullshit remains entertaining through the modest 88 minutes of action. You’ve seen worse.
The best thing about this flick is that its conclusion clearly sets the scene for a sequel, and everything suggests that the sequel will be much better. It’s hard to root for a franchise that awkwardly and inexpertly piggybacks on a traditional story, but this film — and this story — needs to see a reboot, because “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” doesn’t qualify. Here’s to hoping the sequel will supersede this mess.