Movie Review: Huntsman: Winter's War

Fairytale sequel loses much of its charm and mostly just goes through the predicable paces

Huntsman: Winter's War
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
With Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Sam Claflin, Rob Brydon, Jessica Chastain

If the fairytale title Huntsman: Winter's War doesn't ring a bell from childhood, that is because the story was made up by filmmakers trying to cash in on the success of Snow White and the Huntsman but without using the Snow White character. For various reasons, the star of the original film did not return.

The result is a visually impressive prequel / sequel with nothing really at its core. The success of rival studio Disney's animated film Frozen seems to have inspired the new writers, and Huntsman: Winter's War features an icy kingdom and white-haired Queen Freya whose anger turns everything to ice.

But beyond the creative settings and costumes, there is little more in the film than generic fairytale themes stitched awkwardly together, with characters from Snow White being shoehorned into The Snow Queen and bits of other tales added to fill in the gaps.

In line with the first film, the story takes a grittier look at the genre. The violence is more realistic and the special effects a bit scarier than in most fairytale films. The effort would have paid off better, though, is the story was bit more coherent.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the Eric the Huntsman, now with a different love interest. He falls for Sara, a warrior woman portrayed by Jessica Chastain.

Charlize Theron is also back as Queen Ravenna, who takes her cues from the magic mirror on the wall.

Ravenna's sister, Queen Freya, played by Emily Blunt. For convoluted reasons she goes north to establish her own kingdom with an army of kidnapped children who are supposed to forget their families and fight against the concept of love.

Eric and Sara start out as child soldiers in a first half that is prequel to the Snow White and the Huntsman, and then ship ahead to being adults in events that take place after the original film, with the whole Snow White episode being glossed over a bit awkwardly.

Strong female roles are a big plus for the film. The warrior woman Sara isn't a damsel in distress who constantly waits to be saved. She is pro-active and can stand up to anyone. Jessica Chastain stands out in the film in a role that could have been a bit larger. She has a bit more spunk than the pouty Chris Hemsworth, who is technically the main star.

Freya and Ravenna, while both evil, do more than just sit idly by to watch men do the work. But queens being evil and vain is a bit of a cliché, and the writers could have given them more nuanced characters.

Rounding out the female roles is a pair of dwarfs who also can take a hand in the action. Sheridan Smith as Bromwyn is the more dominant of the pair, while Alexandra Roach is the more romantic one.

Two male dwarfs — played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon — also play into the plot, and the relations between the four of them are one of the better elements of the film. The actual actors were reduced in size onscreen using CGI.

The dwarfs provide a bit of comic relief as they tag along on the adventure and bicker, not unlike R2D2 and C3PO in the Star wars series.

While Huntsman: Winter's War is not a bad film, it just reeks of cashing in. Universal, the studio behind it, would have been better off taking another well-known fairy tale and giving it an updated treatment, rather than trying to force the left over Snow White characters into the wrong story.

Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was second unit director and visual effects supervisor on Snow White and the Huntsman. Most of his screen credits are for visual effects, and that seemed to be his main focus with Huntsman: Winter's War, his first feature as a director. Special effects take over at the end, leaving the characters behind.

The result seems to be a live-action version of Frozen thrown into a blender with The Hobbit and Brave, plus a dash of the Star Wars series and a sprinkling of the Hunger Games series.

It comes out as a Frozen daiquiri that nobody remembers ordering but someone will drink anyway.

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