'The Huntsman: Winter's War' Delivers a Failed Fairytale

Outside of simple spectacle, this film fails on every level.

The Huntsman: Winter's War

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2016
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.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.