Historically the classic fairy tales have not had the best of luck being adapted to live action films. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has broken the mold. I'm not saying this flick is an Oscar contender with broad appeal, but in many ways it is changing the game for movies of it's kind. Let me not get ahead of myself, you'd probably like to know what the movies about first. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and his sister Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as you probably already know, were kidnapped by a witch as children. A witch that they then killed as it prepared to cook and eat them in a house made of candy. The story, by way of a very cool intro that seems to be what the intro of Jonah Hex was supposed to be, jumps forward to an unspecified number of years later. Hansel & Gretel are now much older and have dedicated their lives to eradicating the world of witches. We catch up with them as they are called to a town that has been plagued by a grand witch (Famke Janssen) who's been taking all of the children. The pair then gear up and head out to find the witch and her coven all while dealing with a jerk of a sheriff (Peter Stormare) who would like nothing more than for them to leave and some rather ground shaking insights to their past.
I had little to no hope for this movie. After last year's Red Riding Hood I didn't think Hollywood was capable of producing a new take on an old fairy tale that would actually be enjoyable. I was wrong in so many ways. Let me be very clear on something...this is not a "quality" film, it's cheesy, obvious at times, and more often than not quite over the top. HOWEVER, it knows just how to do these things in an enjoyable way. I'll be honest, I was never quite sure why people complained so much when a studio made cuts or changes to a movie to achieve a PG-13 rating over an R. It's just smart business and it's not like the enjoyment factor of the film can suffer because you don't see blood splatter or here someone drop a well timed F-bomb. Apparently I was wrong. Hansel & Gretel comes with a solid R rating. Liquefied heads, potty mouths and even an errant booby, the film hits all the points necessary and for some reason it's actually better for it...to say it feels more real that way seems like a dumb thing to say with regards to a movie about witch hunters but somehow everything just works on a level higher than that which would have been achieved with a "clean" version.
The story is actually a well worked addition to the classic fairy tale, but that's not even what it's all about. This movie hinges on the charisma of it's leads and the cool way in which they dispatch the witches. The gear is very steam punk but the focus lies more on how they use it than on how it looks and that, my friends is where the difference lies. Jeremy Renner continues his streak of being one of Hollywoods most likable stars and Gemma Arterton attains a whole new level of hotness and adds a layer of bad-ass on top. Seriously...I think she's taken #1 on my list of women to lose an arm for....just wow. While I could go on praising the cast I'll jump to the last thing I want to give some real praise to and that's the visual effects. I thought Van Helsing had a tremendous amount of potential but the unbelievable over use of CG totally ruined the movie for me, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters seems to have learned from that, while the CG is certainly utilized at a high level the filmmakers show us a promising level of restraint. The witch makeup and most notably the huggable troll Edward both look amazing for a January release action film. For Edward they either developed some amazing new way to use CGI or they went the route of Where the Wild Things Are and used a CGI hybrid. No matter how advanced CGI characters get they will always look slightly off, using this apparent hybrid method allows for an amazing looking creature with a believable and, if need be, sympathetic face. The witches, well honestly I don't know how they achieved the look, but it appears to be makeup and it looks awesome. Frightening on a level reminiscent of The Exorcist you can easily tell the level of evil your dealing with at even just a quick glance.
Generally I grade the movies I see on a seasonal curve. Movies in the January to March time frame are usually the least of what Hollywood has to offer for that year with April to early August being the top tier. I honestly can tell you that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters would not seem completely out of place during the summer blockbuster season. Should you go into thinking you're going to see something akin to The Avengers? Certainly not, but you should expect to see a fun and exciting 90 minutes of adventure. Are there problems with the movie? Of course, the 3D for one is good but completely useless and there are a few points in the story that serve no purpose other than to allow a moment later in the story...Hansel's apparent diabetes for one. These are all things that don't slow the story down and certainly don't take away from the fun factor.
PS. If you are going to see it in 3D you are in for a huge treat in the form of a four minute clip from GI Joe: Retaliation. Simply amazing Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow fight is featured.
3.5 out of 5 Guttenbergs