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April 16, 2024

Winter’s War is unnecessary and confused

By TIM FREBORG | April 28, 2016


gage skidmore/cc-by-sa-2.0 Charlize Theron, portraying the evil queen Ravenna, offers one of the film’s only compelling performances.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a fantasy action film directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the man responsible for Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and partially involved in Maleficent (2014). The film is something of a follow-up to his Snow White film, following the backstory and later exploits of the titular Huntsman, played by the ever-popular actor Chris Hemsworth.

It’s also a sequel that absolutely nobody asked for.

Perhaps this reviewer is simply projecting, but one really has to ask, did anyone actually want more of Snow White and the Huntsman? Despite the film’s relative monetary success, audience reactions were lukewarm at best, with the film’s only redeeming qualities being a handful of visual effects and a strong performance from Charlize Theron. Now in 2016, Snow White and the Huntsman seems to be a film that is all but forgotten, a blip on the 2012 release list, a gritty experiment which bore little fruit.

Moving away from the Snow White premise, Huntsman draws inspiration from Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen instead. Several years prior to Snow White, the malevolent Ravenna (Theron) remains as vain as ever as she alarmedly learns that her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), is to give birth to a child destined to surpass her beauty. However, her fears are short lived as Freya’s husband murders the child under mysterious circumstances soon after. Freya kills her husband in a burst of frosty ice magic and seals herself in an ice castle, where she begins to raise children and train them to be cold and unfeeling.

Despite Freya’s best efforts, two of these children grow up to fall in love: the Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). Enraged by their insolence, the queen separates them with an icy wall and forces Eric to watch his beloved die. Years later, after the events of the first film, Eric learns that the enigmatic Magic Mirror has gone missing. As he and several companions set out to find it, he soon finds himself crossing paths with a past he wished was long forgotten.

There is one egregious, glaring issue with the plot of this movie: Does a queen with ice powers sealing herself off from the world and personal attachments in an icy fortress in a fit of grief sound at all familiar? Does it get more familiar once an increasingly complex sister narrative is thrown in for good measure?

After the dark and gritty retelling of Snow White failed to generate the love Universal Studios had hoped for, it seems that they have instead opted to leap onto the coattails of a more recent hugely-popular story, Frozen. The biggest issue is that while Frozen had heart, charm and an appeal that has kept it on store shelves to this day, Huntsman trades all of that away for soulless action and a story so shallow and half-baked it’s a wonder Freya doesn’t fall through the ice.

Despite its appropriation of narrative, Huntsman still struggles to formulate a coherent story. Plot devices are constantly pulled from the ether at a moment’s notice. Side plots abound, yet offer little reason to actually be invested in them, with several even going unresolved. Side characters, when they are present at all, exist merely to be brushed off screen, which leads to a jumbled and confused cast of no-names. When an “important” one dies (or worse), there is absolutely no reason to feel anything.

The main cast hardly fares any better. Hemsworth’s and Chastain’s performances are so flat and lifeless I found myself wishing Kristen Stewart’s character from the prequel would show up to breathe some life into the show. Their half-hearted attempt at developing a compelling romance confirmed that Frozen was right to eschew that shtick. While Theron’s character returns to once again steal the show with her near-Shakespearian gusto, she’s hardly enough to carry this overly long and confused narrative. The most I can say for the cast is that Blunt’s character is supposed to be stoic with a hardened heart of ice, and I certainly believe it.

There is little else to be said for The Huntsman. It is unpleasant, derivative, lazy and quite simply does absolutely nothing to justify its existence. Not one week ago, I praised the Jungle Book remake for being a classic Disney effort that managed to be both fresh and nostalgic, capitalizing on why we loved the old film while adding enough to keep it feeling new. Finally, a film of this variety got it right. Now with The Huntsman, it seems we’ve immediately taken a step back. Money may have justified its creation, but I implore you viewers: Do not see this film. Cut off its revenue and let this film wither away, cold and lonely as the Snow Queen’s palace. The film closes with what I can only interpret as a heavy sequel-bait. If audiences never asked for this film, I hope they now scream for that sequel to never be made.

Overall Rating: 1/10

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