What if the Lord of the Rings, Frozen, and Game of Thrones all had a malnourished baby together? Well that’s what The Huntsman: Winter’s War is trying to be. A prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, this film is set out to answer all of the pressing questions you had following the first one. Don’t be fooled though, as Snow While (originally played by Kristen Stewart) does not make a single appearance in this film, despite being referenced countless times by other characters. And yes, it is as awkward as you think.
The film, directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, starts off years before the events in Snow White and the Huntsman, as we discover that the evil queen Revenna (Charlize Theron) has a weary but equally as powerful snow sister Freya (Emily Blunt). Following the tragic murder of her infant daughter by her fiancé, Freya goes full Elsa and freezes him to death. She then retreats to the north in her winter palace, because I guess her sister is cool with sharing different jurisdictions instead of combining forces to make a giant empire and inevitably stopping Snow White in the first film, but hey plot conveniences! In her new kingdom, she kidnaps the children of the local villagers and trains them to be her ‘huntsman,’ who pillage other lands and villages on her behalf. They are trained with the explicit rule not to ever love, because Freya is very scarred from her loss. This is where we meet the Huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and his female counterpart and ‘wife’ Sara (Jessica Chastain) who were both raised together in Freya’s ‘development camp’. Growing up together in Freya’s world made them close with each other, and eventually lead them to break her rule of falling in love. Freya catches them, and through some unfortunate events, Eric is presumed dead and tossed down a river.
Fast forward seven years, Snow White is fresh from defeating and killing Revenna, and Eric is called upon to help get rid of the magic mirror which is apparently plaguing Snow White. With the help of two dwarves Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), the team sets off to intercept the mirror from a royal guard before Freya is able to get her hands on it. Thing’s don’t go as planned.
So from the get go, a big problem with the Huntsman: Winter’s War is its screenplay. There are so many moments in the story that were clearly manipulated for the sake of plot conveniences. You really have to suspend your disbelief in order for this story to make sense, more so than accepting that Snow White lives in a world of Goblins, Nymphs, and other token medieval fantasy creatures. That’s more of an observation than a complaint though. There are so many plot holes to point out, but they would unfortunately spoil chunks of the movie. A good example though is that the Dwarves did absolutely nothing to help Eric in the movie. They didn’t save his life, they didn’t discover any vital information, I swear they got Erin more in trouble than out of trouble. They’re obviously there to serve as comic relief, but they should have had at least something useful to do.
All of These characters are puddle deep. The ones with backstory are very contrived and cliché, and the rest barely even have any. Why were Eric and Sara the only two Huntsman to fall in love? How come they also happened to be far and away the best Huntsman? Why were they the only two that had the sense to defect from Freya? Chris Hemsworth pulls off a welming (not over not under) performance as the confident and headstrong Eric. I would liken his personality to vanilla ice cream: good, but nothing special. Emily Blunt also does a decent job as the menacing but vulnerable ice queen. And if there were a show to steal here, I would say it would go to Nick Frost and Rob Brydon who deliver that dry British humor which I personally am a big fan of. However, I can’t tell whether Charlize Theron’s over the top ham performance was amazing or terrible. You can tell she was just having fun and not taking it too seriously which is always a plus, but I’m not sure that’s what the tone was calling for. And I’m sorry but I could not take Jessica Chastain’s Scottish accent seriously. There were too many times where I caught her slipping back into an American accent. She’s an amazing actress, but I think that was asking too much from her. It’s also a shame too, without spoiling anything, Sara could have been the most interesting character due to her circumstances, but they squandered it with a rushed climax.
There were a few things I did like however. The costume design, especially for the two queens is top notch. It’s very dazzling to look at, and you can tell they put a lot of effort into them. I also really liked the design of the goblins here. It was a very different, refreshing and creative approach to what we conventionally associate goblins to look like. They were matte black, with an alien looking face, decked out in real gold headgear, and they behaved like ferocious monkeys. Far from the green, sinister and gross looking goblins we’ve come to know. And finally, there were a few special effects that caught me by surprise. Revenna’s black goo looked really good and very jarring almost. I was pretty impressed by that. And some of the gold flakes and snow flakes twinkle and fizzle in the background towards the end of the film and looked very pretty as well. Overall the special effects were average, despite these positives. Too many moments where I saw things that looked like they were animated in 2005.
My biggest issue with the Huntsman: Winter’s War is that it’s no fun. The action and fighting scenes are so boring. It’s like the director couldn’t decide between shakey or steady cam. There are way too many camera cuts in fights that sometimes you couldn’t even understand what was happening. Don’t even get me started on the obligatory slow-mo moments in the fights that had the audience laughing out loud. Every task in the film also felt like a chore rather than a journey. And what’s worse is the ending feels so rushed and anti-climatic. So much is built up about Freya’s large and powerful army, but the end result is so mundane that I didn’t believe it was over when it actually was. This movie hardly had any special traits going for it that would set it apart from other fantasies like it, so it’s a shame they didn’t try and spruce up the action (a la Kingsman: Secret Service). Eric’s “abilities” also seem inconsistent. At times he can take on a large group of people, and others he’s stopped by just a few. And his relationship with Sara will annoy you right until the very last minute.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is an unnecessary sequel that really only seems determined to cash a paycheck. Many aspects of the film were executed without any passion, and really felt like no one truly believed in this project. And the fact that they leave it open for a third sequel at the end is an over zealous insult to the audience. It’s not the worst movie of 2016 by a mile, it is watchable, but it will take a lot of patience and effort. Only die-hard Snow White fans should give this a look (although honestly other than the Mirror and her name being dropped every now and then is the only real connection to the fairytale). For everyone else, this is one you catch on T.V. a few years down the road when there’s nothing else on to watch.