Made in Germany, this raucous adventure merrily refuses to follow the usual Hollywood route of blanding-down a fairy tale for the lowest common denominator (see both Snow White movies last year). It's still pretty stupid, but it's so unapologetically over-the-top that we're consistently entertained. And it helps that the filmmakers are clearly aware of how ridiculous the plot is, so they push it even further.
The film opens with a horror-style version of the Grimm Brothers' fable, then jumps years ahead as Hansel and Gretel (Renner and Arterton) achieve notoriety as bounty hunters specialising in tracking down and dispatching witches. When they arrive in a small village, they rescue innocent young Mina (Viitala) from the bloodthirsty mayor (Stormare), then vow instead to capture the area's real wicked witch Muriel (Janssen). The sheriff is sure they're con artists, so forms his own posse. Meanwhile, Hansel tentatively falls for Mina, and the duo also meet their teen super-fan Ben (Mann), who joins them as they head into the woods.
Norwegian writer-director Wirkola has created a gonzo action-horror movie out of the familiar bedtime story, complete with wildly outrageous creatures, fiery battles and almost as many explosions as a Michael Bay Transformers movie. Meanwhile, Renner and Arterton strut through medieval Europe like 21st century action heroes, wearing skin-tight leather, head-butting their foes, swearing like sailors and shooting massive guns at anything that moves. In other words, Wirkola's approach is essentially satirical, which allows him to indulge in astounding levels of grisly violence without it ever getting too nasty.
The film definitely has a Tarantino vibe about it, going for snappy wit and gore instead of actual suspense. The cast members have a great time chomping on the scenery and diving into gritty, full-on battles that are skilfully staged, and the effects and make-up are hilariously deranged. Even so, the script can't help but fall back into tired cliches along the way, as Hansel's awkward romance is interrupted by the action, Gretel is kidnapped in need of rescue and Ben rises to the occasion. We also know full well that for all her shrieking and cackling, Muriel will get her due in spectacular fashion. But getting there is surprisingly amusing.
Run time: 88 mins
In Theaters: Friday 25th January 2013
Box Office USA: $55.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $224.8M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures/MGM
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), MTV Films, Gary Sanchez Productions, Studio Babelsberg, Deutsche Filmförderfonds (DFFF)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 108
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Screenwriter: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner as Hansel, Gemma Arterton as Gretel, Famke Janssen as Muriel, Pihla Viitala as Mina, Derek Mears as Edward, Peter Stormare as Berringer, Thomas Mann as Ben, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Horned Witch, Zoë Bell as Tall Witch, Joanna Kulig as Red Haired Witch, Monique Ganderton as Candy Witch, Stephanie Corneliussen as Desert Witch, Christian Rubeck as Tracker Jonathan, Thomas Scharff as Father, Kathrin Kühnel as Adrianna, Cedric Eich as Young Hansel, Alea Sophia Boudodimos as Young Gretel, Matthias Ziesing as Deputy, Sebastian Hülk as Deputy, Vegar Hoel as Gamekeeper, Jeppe Beck Laursen as Tracker William, Stig Frode Henriksen as Mute Tracker, Rainer Bock as Bürgermeister Englemann