The Huntsman: Winter’s War review: Addition through subtraction
To really understand my feelings regarding The Huntsman: Winter’s War, one of the more unnecessary sequels of the year, I need to explain what I thought of its predecessor, Snow White and The Huntsman. To be brief, I thought it was a ridiculous movie.
That film was overshadowed by off-screen shenanigans between star Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders. It was a mess, and one of those things most people don’t really want to know, but somehow everyone does. Unfairly, Stewart received the brunt of the hatred from the public at large. She continues to work steadily and is getting some challenging roles, but it may have lost her A-list status (at least for now, that status is mercurial). Sanders, meanwhile, failed upwards and went on to create an all new controversy by experimenting with the possibility of making white actors look more Japanese in an almost pathological drive to not actually cast any Japanese actors in a movie based on a Japanese property.
The reaction to Stewart’s personal choices was unfair, especially since it overshadowed just how bad she was in the film. Her bored looks and middle school play-level British accent capped off a film that was just kind of boring. It did look pretty though.
It’s hard to really buy into a film where one of the two titled characters – a character known around the world – is just kind of there. Out of three major stars, Stewart was the third most interesting by a huge margin. It wasn’t even close. So her absence from the sequel is, to me, a huge boon. Even without her though, the previous film wasn’t begging for a sequel. It wasn’t even politely asking for one.
So going into The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the deck was kind of stacked against it.
It helps that Stewart was replaced by Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain. It’s a tall order for a Golden Globe winner and an Oscar nominee to replace a seven time MTV Movie Award winner, but the newcomers are up for it. Plus they have the help of the generally charming Chris Hemsworth, and the larger-than-life Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, Ravenna.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a better movie than its predecessor, but that’s not saying a lot. The film is a sequel, but it begins as a prequel to its predecessor and focuses the coincidental connection between the Evil Queen Ravenna’s sister Freya (Blunt), and the huntsman Eric (Hemsworth). Following a nasty heartbreak, Freya levels up and unlocks her Ice Queen powers. She moves to the north, builds a castle of ice, and probably starts watching hockey. She also decides to kidnap children and raise them into soldiers. For reasons.
Eric and fellow huntsman, Chastain’s Sara (yes, it should be huntswoman or huntspeople or even just hunters, but the film sticks to the title), commit the greatest crime in Freya’s kingdom. They… well, you can probably guess.
They fall in love. You got that, right?
It soon all goes tits up. The lovers are separated, and Eric believes his beloved is dead. Flash forward to the sequel time. Snow White – whose face is never shown, probably because of a combination of budget and bad feelings – wants Eric to find Ravenna’s magic mirror before Freya can. He sets off with his comic relief (two dwarves, played by the too-good-for-this-movie Nick Frost and Rob Brydon), and soon discovers that Sara is alive and willing to join him, but kind of hates him.
They adventure, they fight, the Ice Queen does stuff. And scene.
Theron also plays an important role, but the less said about her role the better. Spoilers and such. She still can’t pull off a British accent though.
It’s a simple, predictable story. First time director and non-adulterer (we hope) Cedric Nicolas-Troyan takes no chances with his debut. The result is an average film with few highs and only a few lows. It’s helped quite a bit by Hemsworth’s charm, Chastain’s intensity, and Blunt’s soulfulness, but none of the characters really have time to develop. Chastain is especially wasted. She’s Oscar nominee and yet is relegated to the role of attractive plot point. Her character is painfully one dimensional.
The rest fulfill their roles, and nothing more. They barely leave an impression. If you remember the names of all the characters, you’ll be one up on most of the audience.
The jump between times also creates weird pacing problems, but the bigger issue is just that the film feels like it is going through the motions. It’s predictable to a fault, and that leaves the big moments feeling kind of hollow. It all leads to an anti-climatic ending to a film that never needed to be made in the first place.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War review conclusion
The best thing I can say about The Huntsman: Winter’s War is that it’s much better than the first. It doesn’t really offer anything you haven’t seen before, and nothing really sticks, but the talented cast elevates it from bad to mediocre. It’s just the type of movie you won’t mind seeing, but you’ll forget most of it soon after.
It’s an unimpressive way to start the summer, but if you are afraid you may be about to suffer from heat stroke you could do worse than heading into a cooled theater and watching this movie. You could do better too, but you could do worse.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.