The Huntsman Winter's War full movie review - As visually sumptuous as it is, this prequel-slash-sequel is no more than a half-baked mishmash of vastly superior fairy-tales/ fantasy adventuresis
Neither Snow White nor Kristen Stewart from the earlier 'Snow White and the Huntsman' return for this follow-up, though it is anyone's guess whether their exclusion is due to
the actress being too expensive for this decidedly lower-budget instalment or because of her relationship-ending fling with the first film's married director Rupert Sanders. In her character's place, it is perhaps only natural and inevitable that Chris Hemsworth's axe-wielding hero Eric would be elevated to lead status, in order to form the narrative glue between the events of that 2012 original and this latest ? and if you're wondering about Charlize Theron's evil queen Ravenna, let's just say that she plays at best a supporting role that is much less significant than the promotional materials have made her out to be.
Rather than choose between a prequel and a sequel, French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and his writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin have decided to make their live-action fairytale a bit of both, resulting in a time jump that will leave those unfamiliar with the earlier film more than a little confused. With no small measure of help from narrator Liam Neeson, we are introduced to Ravenna's younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt), a romantic-at-heart who turns into a bitter icy-hearted villainess following the death of her child at the presumed hands of her lover cum daughter's father. It is perhaps no coincidence given 'Frozen's' box-office success that Freya develops icy-related powers in her post-traumatic process, transforming into the Ice Queen who goes about establishing her kingdom of ruthless killers by kidnapping kids and training them to be warriors she calls huntsmen.
Two of her best warriors happen to be Eric (played in his teenage years by Conrad Khan) and the flame-haired Sara (Niamh Walter; then Jessica Chastain), who defy Freya's commandment not to love by doing just that with each other. When she finds out that Eric and Sara have secretly gotten married and intend to leave her kingdom, Freya separates them with a wall of enchanted ice that leaves Eric thinking that Sara has been killed by a fellow huntsman and Sara thinking that Eric has left her there to die. The plot then fast- forwards seven years to after Snow White's defeat of Ravenna in part one, where Sam Claflin's handsome prince makes a brief return to implore Eric to track down and destroy Ravenna's magic golden mirror that has gone missing but continues to exert its evil influence over Snow White.
That mission is of course but excuse for Eric to be reunited with his thought-to-be-dead wife Sara and team up to end Freya's icy dominion once and for all ? but not without vanquishing her 'cannot- seem-to-stay-dead' sister Ravenna at the same time. Since Eric and Sara are not quite people of good humour, their journey gets some welcome comic relief in the form of two male dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) as well as their romantic interests of the opposite sex Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach). As distracting as their snappy salty banter may be, their presence is easily the best thing that the film has going for it, not only because of their easy chemistry but also because they get the scant memorable lines from an otherwise clunky and leaden script.
As sympathetic as we want to be to the writers for having to keep Snow White out of the picture, the seven-year leap around the events of the original does their film absolutely no favours. What transpired between Ravenna and Freya in those seven years, or Sara for that matter, is probably the most glaring logic gap, not to mention why Freya would suddenly decide upon her sister's death that she should acquire the magic mirror for herself. It also begs the question why Freya never sought to doubt Ravenna's hand in orchestrating the death of her daughter in the years since the former left to create her own fiefdom, and only decides to do so when the latter is somehow magically resurrected by the mirror.
Nicolas-Troyan's experience in the visual effects department (as opposed to the storytelling department) also means that his priority is to deliver spectacle, and true enough, the wintry vistas as well as the CGI-ed sorcery looks sumptuous. There are Colleen Atwood's lavish costumes to feast on as well, the veteran designer on many a Tim Burton film going all out to make Freya look coolly stunning and Ravenna wickedly ravishing. Yet all that style cannot quite distract from a distinct lack of substance, which borrows liberally from a certain Disney animated hit with that song 'Let It Go', 'The Lord of the Rings', 'Game of Thrones' and even 'The Hunger Games'. Oh yes, you'll be hard-pressed to find a shred of originality in this half- baked mish-mash of a product which makes no apologies for taking ingredients from other vastly superior fairy-tales and/ or fantasy adventures.
If that sounds like we're bashing up 'The Huntsman: Winter's War', that's largely because it is quite embarrassingly devoid of imagination, inspiration or excitement ? and no minotaur-like monster or elfin wood nymph changes that. That's not to say that it isn't watchable, especially if all you're looking for is some diverting fairy-tale entertainment; but when you have actors off the quality of Chastain, Theron and Blunt, you'd probably expect much, much more than a throwaway popcorn flick that squanders them in such shallow caricatured roles. Hemsworth might be one of the hottest male actors today, but even his fit, rugged presence cannot quite save you from this cold.