Like a lot of today's movies, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters has an idea you could write on a beermat. Hansel and Gretel grow up. And together ... they fight crime. Nah, just kidding, they hunt witches. It's such a cool idea, I'm not surprised the team was able to get a movie deal to make it real. Neither was I surprised when it turned out that they didn't necessarily have any ideas BEYOND the big idea.
There's a plot of sorts, with an origin story munged into one of those end of the world plots where a boatload of witches are collecting plot coupons to become unspeakably powerful. But it's mostly a clothesline they could hang cool set pieces from at suitable intervals. Hansel and Gretel are forever waking up from their latest concussion to discover that since they hit their heads, everything's changed. The last time I saw a movie depend on that so much, they at least had the sense to play it for laughs.
For something this silly to work, it has to be hilarious and have leads you can root for no matter how silly it all gets. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton just about pull it off, although Hansel is not exactly a role written specifically with Renner in mind, or indeed with anyone in mind (Famke Jansen, who played the big bad witch openly said she only did it to pay her mortgage). And while Arterton is an unsung treasure, she seems weirdly fresh faced to be bought as the grizzled Renner's sister. It seems to have been easier to get her to do American than it was to get Renner to do British so that their accents would match, and no-one seems to have considered for a second that they should both sound German like the rest of the cast - even though the sardonic 21st century wisecracks would probably have been funnier in German accents.
It's a movie which revels in anachronism from the moment the action starts; the town of Augsburg is having its children kidnapped by witches, and we open on a milkman crating up milk bottles with hand drawn pictures of the missing children on them. Hansel and Gretel carry 21st century firepower in 14th century packaging; the gun nuts could have a field day grumbling about how primers, brass cartridges, lever actions, belt feeds and pretty much everything else they're carrying haven't been dreamed of yet, while the rest of us look on in awe.
It's at its funniest when it's cheerily self-aware; I loved it that Hansel has diabetes because of being forced to gorge on sweets by the witch who captured him as a child.
And, as I said in the title, it comes with free mini-remakes. There's a troll who's mostly CGI over a real actor; when he lurched on, I thought finally Andy Serkis is letting someone else get some work. Then ten minutes later, he runs to Gretel's rescue and Kongs her off to his lair. Most of the action is in the deep dark woods, and the witches whizzing around on their broomsticks through the trees are just like the speeder bikes in Jedi. Bonus, no Ewoks.
It's all good messy fun. Nothing even remotely like high art, but fun in spots and never terrible. I couldn't help suspecting that it would have been a better action movie if it hadn't been made in a 3D version; setting up all your action beats to work with the jumping-outta-the-screen-atcha which is all 3D can really do makes for bad staging. And apparently it made enough money that it'll be back one of these days in a sequel. With any luck, they'll have found some new jokes in time.