Let’s do some character analysis, shall we? Today I’d like to take a crack at one of my favorite movies, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Sidebar: I don’t mean “favorite” in an ironic sense or as a guilty pleasure. I unabashedly adore this movie, and I don’t care how low its Metacritic score is. People seemed to dismiss it as an action B-movie, missing the key fact that it’s produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. It’s horror comedy, and while it might not be as outright funny as Shaun of the Dead or Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, its humor derives from its over-the-top cartoonishness, from its gleeful anachronisms and hyper-violence. I’ve seen it compared to “Itchy and Scratchy,” which is pretty accurate. You don’t have to think it’s a great movie (I mean, you’d be wrong, but you’re entitled to that), just make sure you’re judging it by the correct metrics.
Our titular heroes aren’t particularly deep or complex. They had a traumatic childhood encounter with a witch, and now they go around exacting messy revenge on the whole species. Aside from the intriguing brother-sister dynamic, just your standard Caucasian brunette stoic badasses, right? Yet I find myself rather fascinated by Gretel. At first glance, she seems like she’s cut from the standard Strong Female Character template. She’s introduced as an adult by coolly taking charge of the situation, and when her authority is challenged:
And yet the headbutt is a rather unusual move for the textbook SFC. Using it doesn’t require any particular training, finesse, control, skill, or any of the things that you normally associate with a great fighter–just raw force and a disregard for your own safety.
When we see a woman in melee combat, she’s usually a martial artist, employing moves that require just as much grace as strength or skill. There’s quite a lot of overlap between dancing and fighting, but it’s especially true for female fighters. Even when issuing a beatdown, the heroine remains aesthetically pleasing.
But there is nothing elegant about Gretel. She’s a pure brawler, as befits her backstory of learning to fight through experience rather than formal training. When she punches, she’s not mainly using her arm; instead, she sticks her arm straight out and swings her whole torso, an awkward move that provides power at the expense of accuracy. Gretel’s character is not, in any sense, about looking pretty. Oh sure, Gemma Arterton is gorgeous, and she spends the movie in these cleavagetastic bodices and tight leather pants. She also spends most of the movie positively covered in grime, gore, and every filth imaginable. Gretel is not here to impress you–she’s here to bite your fucking face off.
Gretel also doesn’t have many of the traits of a great fighter, because, well, she’s not actually that great. Oh, she’s not a Faux Action Girl by any means. The woman will bring the pain, no question. But watch the movie again, and really watch her fight scenes. She’s solid with a weapon, but in hand-to-hand, she just holds her own and never really gets the better of anyone. Her main assets in combat are her quick thinking and tenacity–she gets the absolute shit kicked out of her, yet keeps getting back up. Since she works as part of a tag team and most of her fights seem to be battles of attrition, that’s all she needs. She’s merely competent, which paradoxically makes her rather extraordinary. After all, how often do you see male action heroes who are just reasonably good at fighting, and when’s the last time you’ve seen a female fighter in a primary combat role who’s anything less than the best of the best?
I think I’m so drawn to Gretel for the simple reason that I’ve never seen anything quite like her before. In an SFF landscape filled with action heroines who seem to have graduated from the same dojo, she’s a crass, scrappy knuckle sandwich of fresh air. Really, it doesn’t take that much to create a new spin on something. In this case, all you really needed was the fight choreographer.