Despite some impressive action sequences, this tale of supernatural vengeance through the ages is incontinently plotted and toe-curlingly awkward
When you first see Vin Diesel in this thoroughly silly fantasy adventure spanning 800 years and every cliché imaginable, you notice something very odd. The famously bald actor has a shaggy mane and a long, plaited beard.
Vin Diesel, who plays the witch hunter Kaulder, is tramping across a snow-covered mountain range, joined by an army of men wearing sandals, carrying axes and muttering about “vengeance”. The setting is unspecified but the signs are unmistakeable: this is the olden days.
Suddenly, Kaulder is deep inside an ominous-looking lair of fire and brimstone where he slays the Witch Queen, a comically ghoulish thing with a face like a plate of soggy spaghetti.
As she disintegrates into a heap of ash, the Witch Queen curses Kaulder with immortality, thereby condemning him to an eternity of witch hunting. It is a breathless, deafening opening sequence – and one which Breck Eisner’s film never quite lives up to again.
Cut to modern day Manhattan. Kaulder has lost all of his hair (stress of the job, perhaps?) and replaced the animal skins with a naff overcoat. But he is still hunting witches – nowadays with the support of an organisation known as The Order of Axe and The Cross. Kaulder’s right-hand man is a priestly advisor played by Michael Caine, who looks dead behind the eyes even before an evil curse knocks him out.
Kaulder seems happy enough with his lot in everlasting life – he potters about wreaking havoc and even manages to seduce an air stewardess, despite being 800 years old. But then rumours start circulating that the Witch Queen is back and that Kaulder is her target.
This sketchy set-up precipitates a succession of elaborate action sequences, which work only because Vin Diesel’s Kaulder is such a convincing thug. He has big muscles, bad jewellery and a walk-in wardrobe of impractical weapons. It is, admittedly, quite good fun watching Vin Diesel smash the place up and deliver indulgent one-liners. “Do you know what I’m afraid of?” he asks at one point. “Nothing.”
The CGI is generally impressive, too, even if the final showdown with the Witch Queen is underwhelming.
The performances from the starry supporting cast are mixed, however. Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie is likeable as Chloe, a benevolent modern-day witch mixing potions and lotions for Kaulder. But it is toe-curlingly awkward when the pair are on screen together.
Elijah Wood, meanwhile, is miscast as a fishy member of The Order of Axe and The Cross, and continues to struggle to shake off the ghosts of fantasy adventures past.
Most will find this a rather too brassy affair, handicapped by incontinent plotting. But there are probably just enough references to shape shifters, dream walkers and secret brotherhoods to keep the geeks happy.