Milking the cinematic gravy train that has become adult takes on Disneyfied fairy tales, Tommy Wirkola reboots the story of two abandoned children taken prisoner by a nearsighted witch with a penchant for tyke meat. Hansel & Gretel eventually trick the hag before pushing her into the oven; the opening credits of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Huntersdepicts, in vivid woodcut renderings, their evolution from scared victims to poised vanquishers of all things witchy. It’s intense, and gory—and it’s just getting started.
The gist of what serves as a plot is that the siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) are called to a town to defeat the baddest witch of all (Famke Janssen). This witch is kidnapping children because she needs the blood for some annual witch’s festival. It’s not clear how she plans to serve the blood of 12 kids to her scores of hideous sisters; maybe it’s a dark twist on loaves and fishes, or maybe she’s just really good at stretching her ingredients. Hansel and Gretel’s appearance results in lots, and by this, I mean lots, of bone-crushing altercations, each one louder and, in terms of weaponry, bigger. In between head butts, Gretel muses about why their parents abandoned them. Hansel dispenses pithy wisdom like “Don’t eat the candy house,” only he intersperses most phrases with “fuckin’.”
I don’t mind movies in which good guys blow away the bad ones, whether it’s with a Smith & Wesson, a Colt 45 or something much larger and more complicated. But as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters take the shooting to an excruciatingly monotonous extreme, it almost becomes snoozeworthy. (It’s ironic that Renner, whom I generally like, was one of many celebs who appeared in a “We Are the World”-type anti-gun ad campaign called Demand a Plan; as one friend said, has this guy seen any of his own movies?)
Toward the end of the movie, when the captured kids are about to get their little gooses cooked, Hansel coolly blows the heads off several witches, right in front of their tiny prisoners. Demand a better script, Jeremy. At least the kids thank Hansel, before they, presumably, wend their own way down the mountain toward home.