Vin Diesel may have a hugely successful franchise with the Fast and Furious films, but that’s not stopped him from trying to launch more franchises with his presence. He’s tried to restart the Riddick franchise with Riddick, and he’s reportedly making a sequel to the otherwise long-forgotten xXx. He even has a hand (or voice, more accurately) in Guardians of the Galaxy. So what’s one more franchise attempt for the star? Diesel’s latest attempt, The Last Witch Hunter, puts him front and center, but plays to some different parts of his abilities than those other franchises. That is, until an ending that rapidly descends into mediocrity.
The Last Witch Hunter sets Diesel up as Kaulder, a (you guessed it) witch hunter living in modern New York City who has been alive for roughly 800 years, after a witch he killed placed a curse on him. In the modern world, witches have forged an uneasy alliance with Kaulder and other humans by agreeing to live largely in secret, and by not using spells on humans. Kaulder is less of a killer at this point in his career than a superpowered detective, using his knowledge and immortality to track down those who threaten the peace. His closest confidante at any given time comes from a line of priests who call themselves Dolan. When Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine) is found dead just after announcing his retirement, Kaulder begins an investigation with the help of the new Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) that will lead to a bigger threat than even he could imagine.
There are a lot of geek elements at play in this film, from Kaulder’s use of historic trivia to hints of the occult. The film even uses some role-playing game references, which must have caught Diesel’s Dungeons and Dragons-loving heart. The film also creates a visual style for magic that makes it feel like part of nature, even within modern-day New York. None of this is necessarily handled perfectly, but there’s a charm to what’s going on that makes the film at least interesting. That is, until the inevitable final act setup, where the special effects are drawn together to create a climactic action-packed showdown. What’s more, the film’s final shot is literally of a doorway, promising more potential adventures from behind. It’s a blatantly obvious nod to hopes for a sequel, which feels unnecessary to include.
To his credit, Diesel’s natural charisma and physique work for the character, who up until the finale manages to use a combination of brawn, brains, and flirtation to find his way through his investigation. Even his naturally deep voice works better in this context, where he’s at least a bit world-weary. It’s the type of performance that makes a fun action flick exactly that – fun.
Even though the ending is rough, there’s enough to enjoy about The Last Witch Hunter to make it worth seeing, especially for fans of Vin Diesel. In the event that a sequel comes, though, the filmmakers should worry less about leaving a door open for future sequels and work on telling the best possible story they can.