The Huntsman: Winter’s War Review
BEWARE THE FROZEN HEART
After the success of Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, the movie studios of Hollywood started to revive and reimaging famous fairy tale stories through a new cinematic lens. In the 2012, two films offered two very distinct takes on the story of Snow White. While Mirror, Mirror (directed by Tarsem Singh) was a lighter and whimsical family affair approach to the classic fairy tale, director Rupert Sanders took a more epic and darker tone with Snow White and the Huntsman. While the film, which starred Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth, had its fair share of being criticized (it might vary from person to person on what that is), Snow White and the Huntsman did make a favorable return on its production investment at the box office, paving the way for a potential follow-up feature. Unfortunately, do to some behind-the-scenes controversies between Sanders and Stewart, both director and actress left the future sequel project, leaving the production at a standstill. The state of the sequel was in limbo for quite a while until director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan took up the mantle with the film The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Is this quasi prequel / sequel worth a look or is an underwhelming fairy tale spinoff?
Long before Snow White (Kristen Stewart) defeated the wicked sorceress Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the Evil Queen moved from kingdom to kingdom, murdering its rulers, and ensnaring their wealth and power for her own, with her tender-hearted sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), following her. However, sadness grips Freya’s heart after experiencing a loss and betrayal from her secret lover, triggering her power of control ice and frost to come forth. With her heart metaphorically frozen over from grief, Freya ventures north to establish her own kingdom, claiming the children of that places she conquered and training them to become her personal warriors…her “Huntsman”. With her two best Huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), falling in love, Freya makes an example of the pair, separating them through an act of her magic. Years, later, with Snow White ruling her kingdom, Eric’s old life comes back to haunt him as news of Raveanna’s Magic Mirror is taken by goblins, requiring a quest to find and destroy the vile mirror. Joined by fellow dwarves Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Doreena (Alexandra Roach), and Bromwyn (Sherdian Smith), Eric set out to find the mirror, only to be confronted with Sara’s unexpected return, rekinding their love for each other as team up to thwart Freya’s plan to possess the ominous power of her sister’s Magic Mirror.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Personally, I actually enjoyed watching Hollywood reconstruct the classic fairy tales by adding different iterations to its narrative structure. Some have been stellar, while some have so-so. Regardless, it’s very interesting what the studios would come up with. As for two 2012 Snow White movies, I liked Snow White and the Huntsman more than Mirror, Mirror (it had its charm, but I thought it was just okay). Despite Kristen Stewart’s horrible performance (and few other nitpicks to the story), Snow White and the Huntsman was actually good, with a lot of epic fantasy elements as well as a great role for Charlize Theron to play as the Evil Queen Ravenna. I remember hearing all the scandal stuff about Sanders and Stewart and probably thought that “The Huntsman” (the intended movie title for the sequel) would be dead. Interestingly, Universal Pictures decided to go ahead with its sequel or rather its prequel / sequel story with The Huntsman: Winter’s War. When I saw the trailers for the movie, I was definitely intrigue (especially with Theron and Hemsworth returning, while adding Blunt and Chastain to the cast). In truth, after seeing the movie, I’m kind of torn with The Huntsman: Winter’s War, having “love-hate” relationship with the movie.
While Snow White and the Huntsman’s director Rupert Sanders was originally supposed to direct the film’s intended sequel, he was removed from his position as Universal Pictures searched for a new director (including Frank Darabont). The studio eventually settled on Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was Snow White and the Huntsman’s second unit director, to helm Winter’s War, making his directorial debut with this project as well. With knowledge previous installment, Sanders knows the world of Snow White and the Huntsman and seems to relish the opportunity to return to its cinematic world, creating new stories and adding to the mythos of the Evil Queen Ravenna and her mysterious Magic Mirror. Like before, Winter’s War is presented as an epic fantasy, keeping up the more adult-themed premise from the previous chapter. The only difference is that Winter’s War isn’t as dark as Snow White and the Huntsman (I don’t know if that’s good or bad). Production-wise, the movie looks good. Costume, set designs, art direction, visual effects are all good and have that fairy tale / epic fantasy vibe. I wouldn’t say it rivals a Middle-Earth movie (Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit) or even Harry Potter movie, but Winter’s War holds its own within its fantasy-looking aesthetics.
Unfortunately, Winter’s War stumbles with its entire setup premise. Let me clarify that sentence for you all. Winter’s War is really an unnecessary sequel as Snow White and the Huntsman didn’t really warrant a continuation to its cinematic universe. It clearly had a beginning, a middle, and end that defined the movie and didn’t need to revisited. Thus, with Winter’s War been its intended sequel, it feels sort of clunky and tad bit convulted, with its repetitive nature of referencing some of the events from the previous movie (naming dropping Snow White a couple of times). If the movie stood on its alone (within its own cinematic universe), the movie could’ve been better. However, to present Winter’s War as a continuation to Snow White and the Huntsman is less than desirable. Adding to that, is that its title character from the first installment is absent. While I dislike Kristen Stewart and the roles she plays (including her role as Snow White), it just seems awkward that they sort of omit her from this movie (you see her briefly, but from behind and clearly not Stewart), while she was the main protagonist in the previous feature. In short, the film desperately wants you to buy into it as a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, but comes up short.
Perhaps the greatest folly on Winter’s War was in its marketing campaign. While I do love movie trailers, I personally felt that trailers for this movie showed off a lot of the feature’s twists and “big reveals” within its limited timeframe, especially a lot of scenes during the fim’s big battle in the third act. This, of course, deflates the overall excitement and suspense when these actually scenes are presented on-screen during the movie (I really should do a movie editorial blog post on this as its happening in more and more with recent movies). Adding to that, Winter’s War feels slightly like a generic fantasy story, being formulaic with its narrative undertaking and execution and having little to no surprises in its storytelling or even its action. Personally, I guessed what was going to happen and it did happen. There’s even some gapping plot hole in its narration, with no evidence to support its claim and ultimately undercutting the story of the first film as if they were throwing some half-baked ideas into this sequel hope that it fits in the within chonology of this movie world. If you’re looking for something new and refreshing in the fantasy movie genre, Winter’s War isn’t that type of movie.
Winter’s War cast is collectively made up of a lot of well-known actors and actresses, some that new to the franchise, while others are returning to reprise their roles from first film. Most notable of who the movie’s events surround is in the character of Freya, played by Emily Blunt. Blunt, who’s known her roles in The Devil Wear Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, and Sicario, does really good as the Ice Queen Freya. She cold, heartless, ruthless, and a great character for Blunt to play. Unfortunately, given Disney’s Frozen, Blunt’s Freya is almost identical to the animated character Elsa (right down to her costume). I was sort of jokingly expecting Blunt to start singing “Let It Go”, which would be awkward and awesome at the same time. Actresses Charlize Theron returns to reprise her role the Evil Queen Ravenna. Theron seems relish her return as Ravenna, easily stepping back into the character. Like last time, she a little over-the-top with her villainy performance, but it’s not cartoonish or corny. I just love her as the Evil Queen. As a side note, when Blunt and Theron are on-screen together, it’s great.
Actor Chris Hemsworth returns to play the Huntsman Eric and, while he has the charm and bravado as he did before, it’s just okay performance. The role of Eric wasn’t a great stretch for Hemsworth to play and so it’s not as iconic as the God of Thunder in the Marvel’s Thor movies nor as charismatic as James Hunt in Rush. In short, Hemsworth does a servable job in the film as he looks and act the part of Eric (i.e. nothing really new to the character). Actress Jessica Chastain plays the love interest for Eric as the Huntsman Sara. While Chastain has the look of a female warrior huntress (with a couple of cool fight scenes), but her character is generic and her story arc is flat with its foreseeable twists. Even her performance is a little bit melodramatic with a weird Scottish accent. I mean I liked her in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Martian, but Chastain’s role as the Huntsman Sara is mediocre. I love you Jessica, but not in this movie.
Of the seven dwarves from Snow White and the Huntsman its only Nick Frost’s character of Nion who returns in Winter’s War and does a good job in his role, providing comic relief for the feature. Rallying in that department are the newcomer dwarves, including Rob Brydon’s Gryff, Alexandra Roach’s Doreena, and Sheridan Smith’s Bromwyn. Each one has their moment to reflect on the humorous comedy in Winter’s War, so kudos to them. In a small reprising role from his previous film is actor Sam Clarflin as William, Snow White’s love interest. Lastly, Liam Nesson does the voiceover for the film’s narration.
The fantasy world of Snow White and the Huntsman returns to the silver screen in The Huntsman: Winter’ War. Nicolas-Troyan’s sequel / prequel feature has its moments of flights of fantasy flair towards its genre, which makes it look appealing visually, as well as some performances (Blunt and Theron). Unfortunately, the movie is an unnecessary sequel that shifts its focus away from first film’s protagonist and refocuses on a side supporting character and, while the backstory is creative, its convoluted and formulaic plot on that fails to reach its potential. Ultimately, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is an uninspiring continuation to Snow White and the Huntsman. To me, I personally torn about this movie, feeling like I liked it, but really didn’t. Thus, it’s an iffy choice at best (if you’re a fan of either Hemsworth, Theron, Blunt, and Chastain) and a rental at worst. Like they said in the trailer for the movie “If it’s a fairytale you’re hoping for, prepare yourself for so much more”. In truth, however, Winter’s War is a superfluous fairytale sequel that doesn’t have the desire affect to warm to hardest frozen heart.
2.8 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: April 22nd, 2016
Reviewed On: April 25th, 2016
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality