I know. It's officially "rotten" with an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's stupid, silly, and insanely violent, and so was understandably shuffled off into January, a dumping ground for movies Hollywood doesn't know how to sell. I'll be the first to admit, it's a dumb movie. But if loving Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is wrong, I don't want to be right.
Paramount Pictures seems to have suspected critics by and large wouldn't care for Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola's English-language debut, as press screenings for the film were notoriously hard to come by. This is why fellow bloggers/critics, Rudie Obias, Angie Han and Perri Nemiroff and I braved the insanely cold temperatures Friday to see the movie on its opening night. Our theater was far from packed, and we all agreed our expectations were low after the release's repeated delays and the bad reviews our colleagues had posted. But hey, Jeremy Renner and R-rated action, how bad could it be? The answer was pretty bad, but also a bit brilliant.
When the lights came up, three of the four of us confessed we enjoyed the flick for its wild and weird sensibilities. It was fun and a satisfying night out at the movies. But the more I thought about Hansel & Gretel, the more its poor reputation bothered me. Sure it's silly and there are some issues with the second act, but there are some things that make it totally worth the price of admission. In fact, there are ten of them.
1. The movie knows what it is. From its title to its gruesome opening title sequence and the gleefully audacious violence throughout, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters knows it is to be the ballsy cousin to the PG-13 rated fairy tale adventures like Snow White and the Huntsman. It's meant to be outrageous and for adults only, and it owns that.
2. It revels in its R-rating. Not only is there a bit of bawdy nudity (which elicited excited "Ooos" from our audience) and well-placed f-bombs, but also there's plenty of violence that is giddy in its gore. This includes a sequence where a rampaging troll squishes a band of men into puddles of blood and brain matter with his bare hands and a well-placed stomp.
3. The violence is inventive. There's been plenty of bloodshed in the movies of January 2013, but none has been so entertaining as this. With steampunk-inspired weapons and grimly spun traps, Hansel and Gretel tear into witches in a way that seems out of exploitation movies and anime. It's bonkers and bloody fun.
4. Its humor is deranged. If you've seen Wirkola's Nazi-zombie movie Dead Snow, you probably expected nothing less. And you won't be disappointed here. For instance, there's a scene as seen in the trailer where Hansel positions an admirer to block him from incoming viscera as a hunter explodes, keeping this witch hunter clean.
5. Hansel suffers from diabetes. It's sort of his kryptonite, and its use as a plot point is both absurd and hilarious. Also, his insulin works like spinach does to Popeye. What's not to love?
6. Jeremy Renner gets roughed up. I count myself as a big Renner fan, and recognize he's probably less than thrilled that this movie has followed The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy. Still, few actors are as fun to watch engaging in action scenes where they take hard hits. Here Hansel gets pounded by super-powered witches and battered by trees, and Renner makes it as hilarious as it is cringe-inducing.
7. Gretel's no pushover. Played by Gemma Arterton, Gretel is a powerful warrior. She not only has a deadly aim with her crossbow, but also is treated like an equal to the male characters. In one scene, she's ambushed by a bunch of local men, and the blows come hard and fast with no punches pulled. It was thrilling to see a fairy tale heroine actually get to kick some ass. (Looking at you, Snow White and the Huntsman.)
8. Peter Stormare commits self-plagiarism. Most times repeating a performance might be a bad thing, but Stormare's manic and power-hungry villain Cavaldi was my favorite part of Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm. While that fantasy feature has a lot in common with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters--down to much of the plot—I was most thrilled to see Stormare with ridiculous facial hair and an audacious accent to match playing the thorn in the side of the film's witch hunters.
9. The witches are wonderful. Famke Janssen is clearly having a blast playing the seductive and deeply evil Muriel, who can shape shift from a beautiful woman to a cracked and wretched crone with ease. Similarly, the other witches seemed wildly deadly. They have immense strength, run like werewolves, and have looks that are the stuff of nightmares. A sequence involving a sprawling coven made me wish I could pause to take in all the cool, creative and creepy character designs.
10. Hansel and Gretel don't give a shit. While some didn't care for these sibling's blasé attitude about slaying witches, I found their smugness funny and fitting for the film. In the end, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is the honey badger of movies. You can call it crazy or nasty or stupid. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't care. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't give a shit.