'Hansel and Gretel' strays from superb source material


January is deemed by most to be the worst month for cinema, and Tommy Wirkola’s dark fantasy-thriller Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t help the month’s case.

The plot opens just as the traditional German folk tale: The abandoned Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) wander around the woods until they stumble upon a house made of candy, where they fall prey to a witch who attempts to kill them and, after some ensuing drama involving an oven, they kill her instead. But Wirkola doesn’t stop there, offering his own continuation of the story.

The siblings are now heroes, spending their lives killing witches across the countryside to much success. They eventually grab the attention of the Mayor of Augsburg (Rainer Bock), who hires them to find missing children suspected of vanishing because of some sort of witchcraft. During their search, Hansel and Gretel come face to face with Muriel (Famke Janssen), the original evil witch, and a mystery that may unlock the key to their past.

The movie seems to be set in the 17th or 18th century, but that illusion is quickly shattered by the use of modern dialogue and a very high-tech crossbow creating an unappealing anachronistic effect. The story fails to connect with the audience and generates almost no emotion, and the film by no means makes up for this lack of feeling in the fight scenes, which are short, repetitive and not very exciting.

I wasn’t expecting much of this movie, but I was at least hoping for a better performance from Jeremy Renner. He had a great 2012, coming off big roles in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy, giving me a grain of hope for this movie. Unfortunately, his role as Hansel is laughable. The tough guy/loner routine Renner goes for doesn’t stick, especially when Gretel seems to be the stronger of the two. At one point, he’s engaging in an awkward romantic interlude with an accused witch, while Gretel is single-handedly fighting off assailants. On top of that, the chemistry between Renner and Arterton is subpar, leading me to think Renner can only function as a film’s sole protagonist. Renner’s performance is not helped by Janssen, who is mediocre at best in an antagonist role, and Arterton, who like the rest of the cast, is also forgettable.

I don’t think the Brothers Grimm would appreciate what Wirkola did with their beloved folk tale. In response to Paramount agreeing to produce this movie, Wirkola said, “I’m still surprised that they went for it, because it’s a crazy, rock n’ roll script. It’s full throttle, there’s lots of blood and gore and bad language, I often wonder how I got this movie made.” So do I, Tommy. So do I.

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