After getting a taste for blood as children, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have become the ultimate vigilantes, hell-bent on retribution. Now, unbeknownst to them, Hansel and Gretel have become the hunted, and must face an evil far greater than witches...their past.
There are too many body parts flying around Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to single out the tongue that has nearly been gnawed off in the cheek of its clever premise that fairy-tale heroes have grown up into savage supernatural mercenaries. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton strut around like 18th-century Avengers in leather uniforms, cursing up a storm of modern vernacular and bearing an inventive array of historically and mechanically impossible weapons such as grenades, crossbows, tasers, machine guns, and other weapons of witch-killing mass destruction. It's all a big joke of course, and one that the movie wears boldly and without a shred of irony. To quibble with its gaps in narrative logic or be righteously indignant that the script is often a slapdash mess is to miss the point that it's all meant to be a pile of plain old silly fun. After their childhood trauma at the gingerbread house, the famous Teutonic siblings are now in the business of killing witches full time, hiring themselves out to villages plagued by ugly, evil women wearing loads of scary makeup (Famke Janssen being the evilest and scariest) who feed on the townsfolk's kids. They do their job well and the movie spares no opportunity to show the effect of their fantastical arsenal with profusions of firepower, explosions, viscera, and disgusting cartoon violence, decapitation being the most favored method of killing by the movie and the title characters both. As the latest in the trend of revisionist fairy-tale telling, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters takes the low road whenever possible, but it does so with a blithe spirit, a foul mouth, and the above-mentioned gore galore to create a B-movie soul that pities any sort of critical over-analyzing. It's also pretty funny. There are several inspired offhand moments, such as the missing-children notices slapped on the sides of farmers' milk cans or the way Hansel has to make time for insulin injections because of the gingerbread overdoses he endured at the hand of the proto witch he and Gretel encountered as children. The art direction, wardrobe, and anachronistically engineered props that propel the story all have a cool steampunk design theme and make the silliness pretty hard to resist. Renner, Arterton, and Janssen aren't really taking things too seriously, which is fine because neither are we. This is the American debut of Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who brings the same playful gross-out sensibility he did to his 2009 feature Dead Snow. That one was about long-dormant Nazi soldiers rising up as zombies. What fun! It was a lark and a goof, just like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. --Ted Fry