Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter Review

I hadn't heard anything at all about this movie, so certain things that I'm sure anyone who's seen the trailer would know caught me by surprise, which is a good thing in my opinion and probably made it easier for me to enjoy the movie. And overall I did enjoy it; it's probably one of the better movies of it's kind that I've seen in a while.

Let's start with one of the best parts: the protagonist, Kaulder, is NOT a Reluctant HeroTM. I was actually pretty confidently expecting them to have him spend the entire movie whining about how he "didn't ask for this" and so on, but no; Kaulder seems to be at peace with what he does. In fact he even seems to enjoy it sometimes - not when he's actually killing thankfully, but generally he seems to be reasonably happy with his life. It was a refreshing change.

Partly for that reason, I found Kaulder to be a likeable character overall. I also appreciated that he wasn't just some musclebound brute, he actually spent more time investigating than bashing heads; you could say that they didn't forget the "hunt" part of Witch Hunter. Oh, and Vin Diesel looked really cool with hair and a viking beard. Shame he didn't keep that look for the whole movie.

Unfortunately I didn't like Chloe (played by Rose Leslie) as much. I don't really know why, but I just never warmed to her. Maybe it's because the "romance" between her and Kaulder was so underdeveloped, or perhaps it's because her presence in the plot felt a little forced at times, I'm not sure.

I enjoyed Micheal Caine and Elijah Wood as the two Dolan's, and wish they could have gotten more screen time. Especially Elijah, I liked his character's part in the story and would have liked for it to be a bit more fleshed out.

I don't think anyone else got enough screen time for me to really comment on them, not even the villains. Which actually ties into one of my biggest complaints about this film: it's too focused on Kaulder. He is basically the center of the entire universe, everything begins and ends with him; eveything ties to him personally, and all that we see from anyone else is how they interact with him. Even the antagonists seem to spend most of their time working to stop him rather than actually working to further their own goals. Hell, Kaulder himself ends up searching for the villains by trying to investigate his own past!

To me, it made the movie feel small and a little shallow. Nothing much was fleshed out or given depth. There's only a small handful of characters and we don't get to know much about most of them; even the motivations of the main protagonists are only really hinted at; witches don't like humans because we build buildings or something. We hear about an Order of the Axe and Cross (I think) that Kaulder works for, but we never find out anything at all about them or how they support Kaulder. There's great little moments when we catch glimpses into a hidden world inhabited by magic-using witches, but they are too brief and far between. We get snippets of the mechanics of magic, but not quite enough to understand how it works, or even what exactly witches are. I just wish the movie had immersed itself more in the idea of this fantasy world.

The plot was not very deep and had it's share of holes, but I will say that it held up better than I expected overall, and it had some decents twists, some of which I kinda saw coming and some of which I didn't. The action scenes weren't amazing, but they were stylish and provided entertaining visual spectacles, as did other scenes in the movie, thanks in part to good use of quality visual effects.

Overall I'm giving it a 7/10. I found it entertaining and stylish, if not very deep or impressive.


I tried to avoid mentioning in the main review that the bulk of the film is set in the modern day world, because I actually didn't know that going in and was surprised when it happened. I'm not sure if I prefer it this way; I really liked Vin Diesel as a viking-esque warrior, but to be honest I'm not entirely sure he could have pulled it off for a whole movie - at least I've never seen him in that kind of role before so I just don't know. And I do like the whole "magic hidden in the shadowy corners of our world" thing when it's done well, so I didn't have a problem with it here.

I liked the fact that Kaulder was so well adapted to the modern world; it was a bit of a reversal of expectations. I was probably a very good move too, as with characters like Captain America running around on screen these days the "man out of his time" cliche is becoming a bit familiar.

I found it a bit funny that everyone kept trying to tell Kaulder that he's lonely, but I never actually saw it in his actions. Yeah, OK, he fixes clocks in his free time, I get that you think that makes him look lonely, but to me it doesn't really, it just tells me that you want me to think that he's lonely since you don't understand why people would enjoy something like watch repair. I mean, I'm fairly certain that there's married men with children who like to do a bit of watch repair, or similar handcrafts, when they can find a bit of free time.

Do the Axe and Cross do anything at all? Perhaps they just gather information on witches then tell Kaulder where to go and who to kill? I assumed that they bankrolled him, but seeing as he's been around for so long I don't think it would be too hard for him to sort out his own finances.

Why is he the last witch hunter anyway? Is it because of the peace treaty? He was part of a group of witch hunters before, so people have hunted witches, and now that there's all sorts of advanced weapons and technology - you know, equalizers - surely it should be easier than it was before? I mean, I know not many people believe in witches, but you'd think an organization like the Axe and Cross would make it a point to keep a few dozen trained warriors armed and ready at all times, right?

He put the heart in his safe? In his apartment? Is that really the most secure place he could think of? Where was it even hidden before it was stolen? The Axe and Cross never noticed it was missing - or did they and they just never bothered to tell Kaulder about it? Maybe the told Elijah's character and he just kept the information to himself?

Why did they need to get the location of the heart from Micheal Caine when Elijah Wood would have known the location himself as the next Dolan? Was it something to do with what he was saying about Micheal Caine taking pity on Kaulder; did that mean that he had stolen the heart or was planning to destroy it so Elijah had to act quickly or something?

How come nothing could kill Kaulder but the Witch Queen was pretty easy to kill? I mean, he didn't even stab her in the heart, he actually missed, yet she basically disintegrated. Did she have a weakness to fire that he didn't or something? I mean, at the end he killed her after he had lost his immortality then been stabbed and shot multiple times; she clearly wasn't all that tough.

When he "unleashed the storm" at the end, what was his plan? Did he know that the sword would act as a lightning rod, but only after he threw it and not before? Or was the storm just a distraction, or possibly a light source? Maybe he just wanted to kill the Witch Queen in a dramatic way; he had her at his mercy before but stood around delivering one-liners instead of finishing her off after all.

Was it really so important to stop him from getting his memory back, even though it seems they needed him to be there for the return of the Witch Queen? How did the memory even reveal to him that the heart was still intact when he hadn't been concious to see it (and even if he had picked up some sounds or something he wouldn't have seen the dude hide the heart)? That's not exactly a memory anymore.

What was that powder that he used, and what exactly did it do? Neutralize magic? How does that work? Like, can you just scatter some around your bedroom and be immune to bad juju? Can you just wear some in a necklace? Can you put it in a bullet or shot shell and shoot down magical spells? Is it magical itself? In which case where did he get it? What about that symbol that appeared in glass when he breathed on it? Can anyone do that or is it something you need to know how to do?

So Chloe didn't actually do ANYTHING at all at the end? She stopped the chant for a while, but then it continued to completion later anyway, and then she just got used as a hostage; she really didn't do anything in the finale. Well, other than tell that obvious lie about how there's "other, worse things" out there just waiting for Kaulder to die. I mean, that's got to be a lie, otherwise the entire universe really does revolve around him. Besides, I don't think his healing factor is so scary that creatures more powerful than the Witch Queen would spend 800 years in hiding because of it.

I just keep thinking "this is so much better than I Frankenstein"!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Riddick Review

Let me start by saying that I'm quite fond of Pitch Black and I like the character Riddick (ugh, this review is going to be hard to write so it's not confusing when talking about the previous entries in the series...), so even if this movie had completely ignored The Chronicles of Riddick and just been Pitch Black again I wouldn't have minded too much.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Chronicles of Riddick because I actually did; the action was entertaining, I liked the worlds they created, and Riddick himself is just fun. However the movie as a whole just didn't quite work. The reason I think is that the scope of the movie was too big for the character. They had a huge galaxy-conquering empire and they tried to make us believe that it was defeated by a guy with a couple of funny-looking knives and better-than-average eyesight.

They lionized Riddick to an excessive degree; while fun at times, overall it just... didn't work. In Pitch Black, Riddick was a tough guy but he wasn't "the galaxy's biggest bad-@$$". He spent much of the film in chains, and even when he escaped the first time he was taken down pretty quickly by just the one guy. No, what Riddick was in the first movie was an unknown quantity; he was unpredictable, dangerous but mysterious.

Thinking about it now, I would say that Riddick was the star of Pitch Black a bit like the Predator was the star of Predator; he's not the character that we follow and empathize with even if he's the one we remember the most; he's the scary and mysterious monster that the audience love even though he's not a good guy. Like the Predator, Riddick is often at his best when you can't see him, but you know he's out there, somewhere. Chronicles of Riddick changed that by making him, well, the Hero.

It's somewhat unfortunate then that this entry in the series inherits some of the problems of the second film even when trying to emulate the first. Chronologically it takes place after Chronicles of Riddick, and yet thematically it tries to go back to the first movie; borrowing so heavily from Pitch Black that some of the scenes are almost exactly the same. Sometimes that works well, other times not so much. Speaking personally at least, I couldn't quite consolidate what I view as two different images of Riddick, which they were trying to present in the same movie. One minute he's standing there challenging the world with a smile on his face, confidant in his invulnerability, the next he's running for his life; five minutes later he's lounging around like he's untouchable again. Perhaps the problem isn't the character himself, but the ease with which I buy into the tough-guy act that Riddick puts on for others?

Having said all that, I enjoyed this movie. I thought the early parts with Riddick alone on the planet worked well, I liked the environment and creature designs, the mercenaries were characterful, the acting appropriate, there were some good action scenes and some nice visual spectacles and Riddick himself is still entertaining.

Overall I give it a 7/10. If you enjoyed Pitch Black you'll probably enjoy this one too... which shouldn't come as a big surprise really.


Ah, now for the obligatory nitpicking! Let's start with the dog. I liked the dog. Riddick liked the dog. There's this fairly powerful scene where Riddick is trying to save the dog - which risked it's life to save him - but fails. The scene would have been better if it hadn't felt as if it should have been possible for Riddick to avoid the situation, but nevermind. My problem is that Riddick passes out to the sight of his dog dying. Then, when he wakes up, he doesn't mourn or grieve or anything, he just slips straight into his "you may think you've captured me, but I'm still in control of the situation" routine, antagonizing his enemies while flashing his pearly whites. Yes, I know that the first thing he did was announce that he was going to kill Santana, but it was still too... quick and easy I suppose. I know he's supposed to be a tough guy who doesn't show his weaknesses, but still, the audience needs to see him react to know that he cares. We don't so we're left with the impression that he didn't really care, that the death of his companion didn't really matter to him.

I enjoyed seeing Batista and Katee Sackhoff, but I felt they were underused. Batista was entertaining when he spoke, unfortunately that didn't happen all that often. Katee's character was so completely unnecessary to the plot that I ended up rather disappointed; it seems she was just there to be the girl, nothing more. Perhaps that's not fair since most of the mercs were pretty much just there to stand around and die, but she's one of only three faces that I recognised so I kinda assumed she would have a bigger role.

I didn't quite get why Diaz betrayed them at the end. Perhaps it was revenge for Riddick killing Santana, or maybe it was to make sure that Johns didn't force them to give Riddick their ship? Also I'm not sure why he sabotaged one of the hover-bikes since he was planning on just killing them there, but that's not really important so never mind.

I didn't quite buy into Johns' change of heart at the end. Riddick says he didn't kill your son but won't actually give you the details of what happened, so you decide to save his life and give him a ship? Eh, I just wish there had been more time for the relationship between Riddick and the  surviving mercs to develop, I think it would have been more enjoyable if they'd been forced to work together more.

I really like the design of the scorpion things, but I didn't understand how they hunted without eyes. If it's all by sound then I kinda feel that they would have a hard time picking up on things outside the water when they are completely submerged, plus I don't think they could have homed in on Riddick even when he wasn't moving if they were just hunting by sound. Maybe it was smell as well? There was a lot of noise going on with those tails, were they sniffing the air? Perhaps that coupled with sound would be enough, I don't know, I don't feel it was clear enough (or maybe I'm just thick). It's just that Riddick was being super-sneaky around the humans but the weird water creatures had no trouble spotting him at all times.

I liked the hints of former civilization that we saw on the planet, it would have been nice if that angle was fleshed out a little more. You know, what happened to them, etc. It seems a shame to have a couple of interesting ruins then just change location without anyone even acknowledging them.

I found it a bit strange that everyone was ready to kill Riddick even though he was the only one who knew where their power nodes were hidden. I guess they figured they could find them eventually or that they could send out a call for help - this was before they learned of the scorpion creatures - but he had seemed quite confident strolling up to them earlier so I assumed from his behavior that he should have been safe. I guess he overestimated them?

Santana was... inconsistent.  Fun, but inconsistent. He lets Dahl beat the crap out of him without resistance or retaliation, then starts picking fights with her later for no apparent reason. One minute he gets in people's face, the next he shrinks away. Perhaps I'm just assuming that, because he's the villain in a Riddick movie, he's supposed to be a two-dimensional cartoon character, and as a result I'm just not able to accept that he's actually a reasonably deep human being who gets scared or swallows his pride some times but stands up for himself others? Perhaps they just wanted to keep him a little unpredictable?