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film review

Vin Diesel as one of the last remaining witch hunters, cursed with immortality, must stop a coven of witches who plan on returning to power to leave the human population devastated in their wake.Tony Rivetti Jr.

This fall, never mind the spectres of James Bond: It's the season of the witch hunter. More specifically, The Last Witch Hunter – though Vin Diesel's V-necked, immortal hero likely isn't going anywhere any time soon. Directed by Breck Eisner, this fantasy action film spends so much time setting itself up as a potential franchise, it's incredible that Diesel's Kaulder finds any time to change formidable-looking peacoats, let alone save mankind from a witch queen's 800-year-old grudge.

The script comes from Priest screenwriter Cory Goodman, who penned The Last Witch Hunter with Diesel in mind due to the pair's affinity for the game Dungeons & Dragons, and a witch hunter character used by the actor. Let this morsel of context be your guide in understanding why Diesel, despite his familiar wooden delivery, is a good fit for this supernatural world that – remarkably – isn't based on a comic book. It's a true, witchy original. Sort of.

The film does little to set up the Middle Ages of Kaulder's youth, instead jumping straight into the warrior's pursuit of some unfortunate-looking creatures with his witch-slaying squad in tow. The target here is the witch queen who, with a reasonable helping of visual effects looks downright menacing but still human, making the standoff – and overarching conflict – somewhat relatable. As Kaulder plunges a fiery sword into her shrinking body, she curses him with immortality. Annoying.

Centuries later, the globe-trotting Kaulder is flying "Abu Dhabi Air" to present-day New York, where he resides and keeps the peace, ensuring that Earth's surviving witches don't harm humans. And who is there to protect him but Michael Caine's priestly Dolan, the 36th "handler and confessor" to Kaulder, who is essentially Alfred to his supernatural Batman ("We've taken down some nasty covens," Diesel growls). When Caine's Dolan dies on the eve of his retirement, Kaulder investigates the death with the mousy Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood), only to find that long-banished dark magic is at play.

If all of this sounds, well, bananas, that's because it is. But The Last Witch Hunter is redeemed through complex visual-effects work that aptly illuminates Goodman's netherworld. Further, Diesel's stolid performance is balanced through the supporting star power of Caine – even with criminally limited scenes – and Rose Leslie's "dream walker," whose earnestness makes even the world of a macho witch hunter seem entirely plausible.

The most significant blow to Eisner's film is the constant reminder that it could be continued. Seemingly at every juncture, the finality so necessary to up the stakes of this story is quickly snatched away in order to tease a sequel or two, leaving you wondering what the point of this supernatural exercise was in the first place.