It never figures out whose story it is telling.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is what you title a movie when you’re desperate to align it with something—anything! Specifically, it seems like a shameless attempt to grab the interest of Game of Thrones fans, or those poor souls enslaved to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, it’s even hollower a movie than the title suggests, as it pulls from every fantasy adventure movie in recent years from Lord of the Rings to The Chronicles of Narnia. The Huntsman: Winter’s War seems to be firmly rooted in the collective unconscious of all fantasy-adventure movies of the past, borrowing everything but offering nothing.
Years before the events of the previous installment Snow White and the Huntsman, the huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) serves ice queen Freya (Emily Blunt) who is the sister of evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron). He’s the most talented huntsman in her kingdom other than Sara (Jessica Chastain), who’s highly skilled with a bow and arrow. Of course the two are in love with each other, and of course the evil Ravenna’s sister Freya has banned love. At the movie’s start, a muddled back story gets introduced to explain Freya’s cold heart. She has a baby who the magic mirror favors, and this makes someone jealous, so they kill the baby. It’s all intentionally vague, and reeks of setup for a third movie.
Sara and Eric’s forbidden love eventually gets discovered, and leads to Eric being banished from Freya’s kingdom. We then jump seven years later to after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, in which Eric is trying to track down the Magic Mirror with the help of some dwarfs (Nick Frost returns alongside The Trip’s Rob Brydon). They spend a lot of time roaming big, empty CG landscapes that fall short of what the first movie does well, despite that the director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan worked on the visual effects for the previous movie. Worse is watching an abysmal script lay waste to a very talented cast. I shouldn’t have to tell you how good all the people in this movie are, and yet it’s tough to care about any of them or their connection to each other. That being said, the some truly exciting interactions come from when Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron share the stage. Too bad there is so little time spent with the two of them together.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War wasn’t originally intended to be a sort of prequel to 2012’s lackluster Snow White and the Huntsman. The plans were to make a sequel until Snow White’s titular star Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders got involved in a very damning affair made public by the tabloids. This resulted in the two getting fired, and the sequel to turn into a needless prequel. The production never seemed to recover from the loss of its Snow White. Still, she is referenced plenty enough. Her name is dropped often, and the final act is all about protecting her kingdom. Yet we never really feel her influence resulting in an extremely low-stakes tale. Here lies the biggest problem with The Huntsman: Winter’s War: it never figures out whose story it is telling. | Cait Lore