Some fairytales do not have a happy ending and this sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman is one of them.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is perhaps better left frozen, forever unthawed in the (unfortunately) barren land of bad movies that should never have happened. Despite the returning star power of Oscar winner Charlize Theron and Avengers veteran Chris Hemsworth, there was nothing (and no one) that could save the movie from its cold storytelling, lukewarm romance and almost-cool action scenes.
The movie sells itself as a prequel of sorts but it is really more of an unnecessarily lengthy origin tale about Eric the Huntsman. It tries its best to work around not having Kristen Stewart return as Snow White, by telling the story that happens before, during and after that first movie – a literal prequel sequel if you will.
New to the story is evil Queen Ravanna’s brokenhearted sister Freya, played by the enchanting Emily Blunt. Originally a squib (that’s a non-magical being born into a magical family for all you non-Harry Potter fans), Freya eventually discovers her icy inner Queen Elsa when tragedy strikes. Needing a distraction and driven by a need for emotional numbness, Freya decides to raise an army of Huntsmen to invade and conquer all the lands in the north. Her Huntsmen are trained to be efficient warriors, and due to Freya’s emotional trauma, are forbidden to love.
Blunt plays a fantastic simmering ice queen who fights her feelings every step of the way. Although superficially cool and collected, Blunt is able to subtly portray the inner turmoil the Ice Queen suffers just barely beneath the surface. However, Blunt fails to carry the character all the way through as Freya just doesn’t seemed pained, broken, cruel or ambitious enough that you would actually feel for her, even by the end of the film.
And of course, the forbidden fruit trope naturally leads into an extremely predictable, if disjointed, love story between Freya’s two best Hunstmen, Eric and Sarah.
Hemsworth reprises his role as the charismatic if enigmatic (well, not anymore) Huntsman. The movie catches Eric living alone and peacefully until he is forcefully returned to Queen Snow White’s service. This leads him to be reunited with his previously dead wife Sarah. In this rendition of the titular Huntman, Hemsworth has ditched his character’s previous drunken manner for a much sunny deposition.
The movie is filled with scene-saving summery smiles which Hemsworth hams up to maximum charm. Eric’s joy shines from within, with his character bubbling over with happiness whenever he looks at his wife – Hemsworth makes it easy to believe that Eric truly loves Sarah and that they deserve a happily ever after. However his lines are often empty, leaving his jokes flat and severely diminishes any type of character development. There’s no substance to his character at all. He’s basically like a really happy puppy who was just discovered that he was the good boy throughout most of the movie.
Hemsworth’s character has kept his agile athleticism, making the short amount of fighting scenes mildly entertaining but it’s nothing new. The action sequences can seem underwhelming at times as Eric’s skills are obviously downplayed to make his wife seem that much better.
Eric’s previously dead wife, Sarah the Warrior, is played by the fierce Jessica Chastain. Unfortunately for Chastain, despite having a strong character to potentially work wonders with, the script has left her with a two dimensional character that no one really cares about. Sarah is certainly feisty, well-trained, beautiful and tough but unlike the Tardis, when you open up the character for a deeper look, she’s mainly made up of superficial tropes. Chastain doesn’t play Sarah with a lot of passion, making the love between Eric and her seem a little one-sided. It’s almost as if she fell in love with him because there wasn’t many other choices for her – some might say it’s fate, I call it lazy storytelling.
The story very loosely ties things together, making the character’s plot twist seem very bland. There was no shock or surprise felt when you discover the true motive of her character at all. Chastain does the best with what she has, but unfortunately, it is not enough.
Charlize Theron’s evil queen sees less screen time compared to the 2012 movie, not that it matters. When the Queen steps onto the scene, you feel it before you see it and you worship her regardless of her cruelty. Theron plays a gorgeously selfish, manipulative Queen like before. Unfortunately, just like the others, there’s no character development whatsoever. She’s basically transplanted from the last movie without much thought. Fortunately, Theron is always a pleasure to watch, owning every scene she’s in.
The movie is not as visually stunning as the previous installment, because there is nothing new to see. Many scenes seem to have been stolen from other shows rather than inspired from them – see if you can count which ones and how many (we spotted at least three). The story is so, so, so loosely tied together that you quickly forget the plot and even if you did not forget the plot, you could not care less for it at all.
The talented cast is normally worth watching but the script fails to deliver on so many levels, leaving them rather dull. Fortunately the movie is saved by the underrated dwarves whose budding romance and witty liners add humour into the scenes, making them just barely bearable to watch. Also someone told the director that goblins apparently look like patchy gold-gilded horned chimpanzee things – which are more curious than scary.
Also for those watching the local release (Singapore), be warned that there is a terribly jarring censor-cut scene in the middle of the film. It is horribly done, and most certainly unnecessary because no one should take their children to see this film anyway. It makes so little sense even children would not be able to care for it.
So mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Certainly not The Huntsman: Winter’s War.