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Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Directed by: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Premise: A spinoff of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. The film tells the backstory of The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), revealing that he belonged to the army of the evil ice queen Freya (Emily Blunt). He and his true love (Jessica Chastain) escape and defy the queen.

What Works: The Huntsman: Winter’s War is an attempt to tell a more complex story than Snow White and the Huntsman. This movie aspires to be The Empire Strikes Back and while it never achieves that level of quality (nor does it even come close) the ambition of the filmmakers is admirable. The Huntsman is a bit more character-driven than the previous film or the average sequel, in that it is centered on the relationships between several pairs of characters. This is primarily the story of The Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth, and his wife Sara, played by Jessica Chastain. They were abducted as children and forced into the army of Queen Freya, who forbade love in her kingdom. Naturally, the two warriors fall for each other and are forcibly separated and the movie is about these people finding their way back to one another. The other important pairing in The Huntsman is Queen Freya, played by Emily Blunt, and Queen Ravenna, the villain of Snow White and the Huntsman again played by Charlize Theron. The two queens are sisters who are corrupt and evil but Freya is a tragic monster, as her supernatural powers are a result of losing her infant child. These backstories give the characters a bit more depth than the usual Hollywood fantasy film.

What Doesn’t: The fact that The Huntsman has interesting characters and sets up potentially compelling conflicts makes the failure of this movie all the more disappointing. The Huntsman has numerous flaws but the primary problem is that the movie is not engaging at all. The story is unfocused and the plotting jerks the audience around. The film begins as a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman and the first portion of the story fills in the backstory of its four key characters. But then the movie skips ahead to after the events of the Snow White and the Huntsman and that temporal leap interrupts the story and doesn’t make sense. It creates some continuity problems but it also has a strange way of making the events of the 2012 movie irrelevant even though the events of Snow White and the Huntsman are extremely important to this picture. Of the strange omissions of The Huntsman is Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart in previous film. Stewart was the weakest link of the 2012 movie, in part because the script didn’t give her much to do, and so her absence should help this film. But because Freya is reacting directly to the overthrow of her sister it is more than a little odd that Snow White is absent from this movie. Another of the critical flaws of The Huntsman is its lack of stakes. The action is arbitrary; everyone is fighting but there’s no telling what these people are fighting for. This is an example of a movie that goes for an epic scale—Queen Freya intends to overthrow the neighboring kingdoms and depose Snow White—but it’s so broad that the story is unteathered from anything recognizable or relatable and the action becomes meaningless. The filmmakers have created a story that requires a big canvas but they don’t have the means to pull it off. The special effects of The Huntsman are inconsistent. Some of them are good but others are noticeably cheap, especially the computer generated magic of the evil queens. The action of The Huntsman isn’t very good either. It isn’t staged very well nor does it have the energy and grit that distinguished the action of Snow White and the Huntsman. The whole picture is a drag that plays a lot like a darker version of the television show Once Upon a Time.

Bottom Line: The Huntsman: Winter’s War is disappointing. The movie has the potential to be something great but it’s not even something good nor is it the right kind of bad to be guiltily enjoyable. It’s just a slog of self-important fantasy action.

Episode: #593 (May 8, 2016)