The Huntsman: Winter’s War is advertised as a prequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which it is for a very short while before it transforms into a live-action Frozen spinoff morphed with a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. The prequel/sequel brings back Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin (for all of five minutes) and the backside of someone who is not Kristen Stewart playing Snow White for a blink and you’ll miss it scene. What this return to the world of huntsmen and evil queens fails to bring back is any sort of a cohesive story.
Emily Blunt joins the fairy tale adventure as The Huntsman’s version of Frozen’s Elsa, complete with white hair, the ability to freeze whatever she touches, and her own ice castle far away from her sister. The only thing the writers forgot was to give her a talking snowman as her closest friend which, now that I’m thinking about it, would have greatly improved the story. How anyone connected with this offspring of Snow White and the Huntsman could possibly have thought going the Frozen route was the right path to take is incomprehensible. And if the writers didn’t take into consideration that comparisons would be drawn between this overwrought CGI spectacle and Disney’s beloved Frozen, then they’re obviously out of touch with movie audiences.
I can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone asking when there would be a prequel/sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, but we’re being served up one anyway because of the first film’s respectable box office take. The original film’s popularity was driven by fans of Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, but with the behind the scenes shenanigans between Stewart and director Rupert Sanders the sequel moved on without either the first film’s star or director. Stewart’s not really missed as Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain more than make up for her absence, but Sanders’ absence is felt. Visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan makes his feature film directorial debut and despite his visual effects background, fails to make The Huntsman as visually attractive as Sanders’ Snow White.
As for the plot, basically Ravenna (Theron) activates her sister Freya’s nasty powers by killing her baby. That sends Freya into full-on Frozen mode and off she goes to set up her own ice castle and then conquer all of the surrounding lands. Freya decides that if she can’t have love, then no one in her kingdom is allowed to experience that particular emotion. She also figures out the best way to create her army is by rounding up all of the children in her land and training them to be huntsmen or huntswomen. Of course two of the children grow up to be adults (played by Hemsworth and Chastain) who fall in love, and of course those two huntspeople are the best of Freya’s army so she’s doubly angry about the betrayal. The mirror of “mirror, mirror on the wall” fame enters the picture with The Huntsman transforming from prequel to sequel at that point, and then it’s all a matter of keeping the mirror out of Freya or her evil sister Ravenna’s hands for the rest of the movie.
There are many, many battles and occasionally it’s even possible to tell who is fighting who. There’s also a batch of dwarves played by Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach who turn out to be the best part of the whole story. Even the discussion over their enjoyment of water is better than most of the dialogue given to Hemsworth, Theron (who is absent for most of the film), Blunt, and Chastain. And speaking of the dialogue, I’m still stumped as to what accent Hemsworth and Chastain were attempting to wrap their tongues around.
The costumes are gorgeous and, as noted above, the dwarves were entertaining, but overall The Huntsman: Winter’s War feels like just a cash grab by the studio. Hemsworth and Chastain have decent chemistry and Blunt and Theron are impressive as evil sisters/queens, but there’s only so much they can do with a story that’s unnecessarily convoluted and characters that are completely one-dimensional. Stick an arrow/axe/your weapon of choice in it, this franchise is done.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2016