Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola’s 3D action reboot of the German fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel is the latest addition to a list of films straddled by characters drawn from myth, legends, folk tales, novels and comic books. I’m sure those of you who have read the story by the Brothers Grimm (who were a part of my childhood with the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen) will recall that Gretel is the stronger of the two siblings. Which didn’t stop the writers of the TV film Witchslayer Gretl (played by Shannen Doherty) from stretching the original story’s primary plot device of abandoned children to reduce Gretel to a witch’s minion while Hansel is the actual demon slayer.
Wirkola’s update, like other contemporary versions, retains the basic plot element and proceeds to make warriors out of them both as adults; warriors who know their destiny even as they remain unaware of their past. No, the prologue doesn’t show them as little children finding their way home after escaping from the gingerbread house. The film begins where the original story ends. Besides, screenwriters Wirkola and Dante Harper transform the titular brother and sister’s wicked stepmother into a good “white” witch.
Actually, there’s more than one of this type around, an attractive woman (Pihla Viitala as Mina) who serves as Hansel’s (ultra-modern) romantic interest. The description is placed in parenthesis because I do not think medieval era women dropped their clothes at the drop of an eyelash. Also, the weapons used by the two witch slayers range from medieval arrows to modern guns.
But we won’t quibble about that especially not when there are worse things to bemoan like: a feckless father who abandons his own children on a dark night in a forest instead of protecting them; a corrupt sheriff named Berringer (Peter Stormare) mobs who burn innocent women at the stake, gory killings, child cannibalism and…let’s turn our attention to the narcissistic “black” witch (Famke Janssen) whose attractive exterior masks a diabolical creature. Consider how she invokes Satan when she says answers to several names. Janssen’s harpy and her skilfully made up cohorts frighten and look frightening. We also see decapitations, disembowelments, people being torn apart and such like.
No, Wirkola does not sanitise the story; rather, he sounds the cautionary note of looking beyond appearances. The troll Edward evolves into a friend and by the end of the movie, we have a franchise friendly narrative about heroic vigilantes battling evil.
Lest we forget, their work is mighty serious work, and to make sure that no one takes everything too seriously Wirkola employs elements of black comedy, and a bumbling young aspiring witch hunter Ben (Thomas Mann).
As Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) the titular duo shows good comic timing in the admittedly few campy scenes. In the end though, it’s their A-list status, the visuals and the special effects that make this updated fable worth a visit to the multiplex.