It seems like fairy tales are once again in vogue. We've had, over the past couple of years, Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White & The Huntsman and various others... along with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which released in 2013. Starring Jeremy Renner (possibly best known as Hawkeye from the 'Phased' Marvel movies) and Gemma Arterton (of St. Trinian's fame), it's a shamlessly gory take on the tale by the Brothers Grimm. The cast also includes Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (best known to English-speaking audiences as Angua in the Sky adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett's Going Postal) and Robin Atkin Downes (a prolific voice actor), amongst other lesser-known American and European actors.
Essentially, the story is that Hansel and Gretel made a career out of hunting witches since that night, and now adults, they're famed across the country for their ability and many successes. The plot isn't exactly strong, and the characterisation can leave a little to be desired, yet it still manages to be quite entertaining. I felt Renner and Arterton did rather well as the heroes, and I bought into them as much as is possible. The supporting cast also performed rather well, with the potential exception of Famke Janssen as the 'big bad', with her character and performance reminding me a little too much of Coraline's Other Mother.
The film seems to have a strange reverence for ultra-violence, and for attempting to create shocking scenes. We see a few suicides, matricide, hangings and so forth (including what may have lead to rape), yet not once does it even come close to actually being shocking, which undermines the dark atmosphere the film tries to create with numerous night or poorly-lit scenes, as well as the darker colours of the costumes. Another aspect it tries to add in is Hansel living with diabetes (referred to as 'the sugar sickness'), which seems to be forgotten at points in the film, treated almost flippantly in others, and leads to an extremely obvious plot moment.
I'm a little conflicted over the film's attitude towards women, too. Assuming it's set in Germany as it implies, it seems odd that Gretel would be wearing trousers, let alone such incredibly tight leather ones (the film thankfully spares us unnecessary, gratuitous shots of her backside) and even though she spends most of the film with some décolletage on display, barring one scene it's never picked up upon in a sexual manner. Yet whilst I felt this was mostly positive, the main witches generally were covered from neck down to toe (possibly to save time in make-up, the visible make up being rather well done) and it provided an interesting contrast, I wasn't sure why Gretel would be wearing such restrictive clothing for such a combat-heavy career (nor why her legs are clearly so cleanly shaven). There's also a LOT of violence against women, perpetuated by both men and other women, but this may be skewed by the unusually high proportion of female characters and its focus on witches as the enemy.
To conclude, I felt Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was a fun, but flawed, film. It was a little too violent without any real reason to be, and it didn't seem able to decide whether it was serious or comedic. Yet if you can get past the extreme violence, there is an entertaining film here, and one I wouldn't say no to a sequel of.