The Huntsman: Winter’s War, 2016.
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sam Claflin and Jessica Chastain.
As two evil sisters prepare to conquer the land, two renegades Eric the Huntsman, who previously aided Snow White in defeating Ravenna, and his forbidden lover Sara set out to stop them.
When is a sequel not a sequel? Well, when it’s a prequel of course. And when is a prequel not a prequel? A sequel. Right? Such confusing things are not uncommon in Hollywood these days where the words mentioned above, as well as the unrelenting desire to create universes, are as commonplace as they ever have been. In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, it has the supreme distinction (and in equal measure confusion) of being both a prequel, a sequel and lest we forgot potential universe builder.
Back into the recesses of the forests we go as looming castles full of both darkness and splendor hang majestically over the world’s below. “Before Snow White” is where we find ourselves, at the birth of the titular band of soldiers and their queen Freya (played with gusto Emily Blunt). It is Freya who brings birth to the Huntsman after her young child is killed in a deadly attack that may or may not have been at the behest of her eldest sister Ravenna (Theron, having a ball once again) after she discovers the young girl would possess sufficient power to overthrow her.
Desolate and scarred, Freya flees to build her own Kingdom and with it the young children of those around it. Saving them from the scarring influence of love, she trains them to be her Huntsman, lead by the returning Chris Hemsworth and new recruit Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) as her finest fighters tasked with helping her conquer all.
While it’s a strange film in terms of just where it sits within the Snow White story, Winter’s War makes the brave but ultimately right decision to bring a little more lightness to proceedings. Where the original was all brooding and gritty, the new effort embraces adventure and whimsy, with writers Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules) and Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3 & 4) embracing the wit of Hemsworth and Brits Nick Frost, Rob Brydon and Sheridan Smith instead of the aforementioned doom gloom which allows for a much more enjoyable romp. Chastain too looks like she is having a blast, but is given very little to chew on.
That said, Winter’s War never truly gets above the level of decent due in no small part to the overly complex plot that jumps back and forth and it tries to stitch together both a prequel and a sequel (aka ‘How do we solve a problem like Kristen Stewart?’). It’s as if Nicolas-Troyan and company couldn’t quite settle on which story to ultimately tell, so much so that poor Sam Claflin pops up only to help us “jump over” the first film for some aimless reasons (and love, of course) before we set off into something that always feels rushed and unfinished, meandering towards its inevitable conclusions. The debutant director does a decent enough job at keep things energetic when it needs to be, while letting Theron in particular chew the scenery with utter delight but never feels quite enough.
All in all, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a mixed bag that entertains just enough to keep your attention without ever really making much of an emotional impact. Theron and Blunt have a great time in their roles, and while Hemsworth and Chastain do their best, both are undone by some very dodgy accent choices. Mirror Mirror on the wall, can we have no more Huntsman, no matter how big or small.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ /Movie: ★ ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth and co-host of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.