Outside of simple spectacle, this film fails on every level.
The Huntsman: Winter's WarDirector: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Studio: Universal Pictures
US date: 2016-04-22 (General release)
UK date: 2016-04-22 (General release)
When is a sequel not a sequel? Well, in the case of the latest excuse for a franchise, The Huntsman: Winter's War, we get a surreal mash-up of prequel and follow-up, a bookending mess that means to launch Chris Hemsworth in a new series so far removed from the entertainment value of his Marvel work that you have to wonder why he's agreed to do these films in the first place. He's Thor, after all. He can't possibly need The Huntsman paycheck that badly.
The last time out, the F/X heavy filmmaking centered on trying to update and reimagine the Snow White myth. Now the lovely lady with the proclivity toward eating poisoned apples and shacking up with a bunch of dwarves has been jettisoned, replaced with a retake on Frozen by way of the same Evil Queen from the original film. We also get a confusing origin story for the Magic Mirror, significantly less storytelling, and more opportunities for first time feature film director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to wow us with style over substance.
This is a wonderful looking film, loaded with razzle and dazzle. It's also less palatable at its core than a rotten apple. We're initially introduced to Freya, The Ice Queen (Emily Blunt) as she's with dealing her angry sister, the sorceress Ravenna (Charlize Theron), an affair with the Duke of Blackwood, and the birth of a child out of wedlock. When the Magic Mirror predicts this baby will rule the kingdom with her beauty, she is killed. Freya goes gonzo, and soon there are glaciers everywhere. She even ends a relationship between the Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth) and his betrothed, the warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain).
Years later, the Mirror goes missing, our hero heads off to look for it and he brings a couple of his dwarf buddies -- Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) -- along for the ride. We then get the most convoluted return of a major character ever, lots of visual bells and whistles, a bad romance, and enough lame attempts at narrative intrigue than a series of spy spoofs. The Huntsman: Winter's War wants to be a fierce fairytale full of female empowerment and themes. All it ends up being is a bunch of empty eye candy which no amount of computer generated gimmickry can render fulfilling.
As an example of a studio desperate to create its own cinematic universe, as an attempt to match Marvel and DC and Universal's monsters and the various YA adaptations running around, The Huntsman: Winter's War fails utterly. It's awkward and odd, trying to cram content into places it doesn't belong while forgetting to provide fans with any reason to care. We feel very little for the main characters, sympathize with their cockeyed cause only slightly, and wonder where this will end up. The answer is so disconcerting and disquieting that we find ourselves junking the whole experience.
Evil queen on queen action is not a valid enough reason to drag us through set-pieces launched as mere excuses for experimenting with the genre. There's no heart, or heft, the lack of gravitas evident in every frame that flies by. Some will call this movie a more violent and intense Frozen, and for the most part, this is accurate. But it wants to be more than that. It wants to be a modern myth. It wants to wow you with insane visuals. It hopes to have you laughing at Frost and Brydon's mini-me antics. It even prays you find Hemsworth and Chastain's forbidden love intriguing.
But you don't. This movie is such a cinematic whirling dervish that it's impossible to get a handle on. It just keeps bouncing from half-baked idea to half-baked idea, never once settling down and allowing itself to expand on a premise that might make it feel deep and three dimensional. Even the casting doesn't achieve its intended goals. There's no chemistry between Hemsworth and Chastain, so the proposed romance goes absolutely nowhere. There's also no continuity between a campy Theron and an understated Blunt. They're like parts brought in from two totally different movies.
The original had the whole Snow White element going for it, but here, there's no such hold. The Mirror's power is not enough, neither is Blunt's "Let It Go"-less labors. Theron may be enjoying herself, but she's the only one. In fact, a film like The Huntsman: Winter's War often feels like as much of a chore for the actors as the audience.
Believe it or not, there are even hints of yet another sequel on the horizon. Sometimes, it pays to learn from your mistakes and simply walk away. Kristen Stewart did. She didn't return to this contrived mess. The rest of the cast might want to follow suit.