I expected to feel indifferent at best about the 2013 horror-action comedy Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. First of all, I had no idea it was a comedy. Something about the advertising made the film look like the dour psuedo-goth post-Dark Knight action snoozers I, Frankenstein & Dracula Untold. Instead, Hansel & Gretel has something essential that both of those films lack: a sense of humor. The idea of giving the gritty Nolan-Batman treatment to non-deserving pre-existing properties has the potential to be fun as long as the juxtaposition is humorous, something that helped make Michael Bay’s much-hated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot a fun watch for me. In giving the classic Hansel & Gretel fairy tale a gritty origin story, Witch Hunters nails the tone of how to make that proposition entertaining. It’s just as much Nolan’s Batman as it is Raimi’s Army of Darkness. Yes, the basic concept of the film is dumb, but it’s so deliciously dumb (and exceedingly violent to boot).
The traditional fairy tale part of the story is dealt with early & abruptly. Hansel & Gretel’s almost-got-eaten-in-a-candy-house childhood is but a brief prologue for the real story: after killing their first witch in that candy house, they grew up to be heroic action movie witch hunters who rescue orphaned children from the mythical wretches. The witches alternate from mildly annoying to legit terrifying here, but rarely overpower the appeal of the action movie tropes on display: cartoonish violence and posturing one-liners, like the two life lessons Hansel gathered from his childhood trauma: “Never walk into a house made of candy,” and “If you’re going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire.” The modern shit-talking is scattered among more archaic vernacular like “I accuse this woman of craft of witchery.” That dichotomy is the film in a nutshell: ridiculous, over the top action movie surface pleasures set in a world where it sticks out like a sore thumb. A surprisingly hilarious sore thumb.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is way more fun than it has any right to be. It’s surprisingly heavy on gore (especially decapitations), is unashamedly dumb (as most fun action movies are), and acknowledges its ludicrous superhero pedigree with casting choices like The Avengers’ Jeremy Renner and X-Men’s Famke Janssen. There’s also a super cute (and super huge) troll named Edward, some modern touches like Hansel’s need for insulin after being force fed candy as a child, and a laughable excess of late-90s goth aesthetic. What makes Hansel & Gretel enjoyable is its commitment to its own ridiculousness. It is a dumb action movie at heart and takes that role very seriously, as evidenced by the witch hunters’ machine gun bow & arrows and penchant for corny jokes. Jeremy Renner is no Schwarzenegger and there isn’t much going on below the basic genre surface pleasures, but it’s a very sleek, fun 90min popcorn flick that’s surprisingly efficient & self-aware. And dumb. The stupidity on display here is as relentless and delicious as being force fed fist-fulls of candy.