THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR is a Diverting Effort, Even if Nobody Asked for It

by Frank Calvillo

When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was set to review The Huntsman: Winter’s War, his immediate comment was: “Ugh! That’s a movie that nobody asked for.” It may seem just a tad snarky, which my friend has been known to be, but he was right. I can’t think of a single person who walked out of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman and proclaimed: “We need another one of those!” After some thought, I can’t seem to quite make up my mind whether this film’s existence is a result of Hollywood’s current trend of turning any and every blockbuster with the slightest hint of profitability into a powerhouse franchise, or the even more dangerous trend of studios being hell bent on ensuring that every weekend has a summer-like event movie opening, regardless of what time of the year it is.

In The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the origins of Eric, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) are traced back to when he was just a child taken, along with many other children, from his village by the bitter and heartbroken Freya, the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt), younger sister of Ravena, the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron). Eric, along with the beautiful and fierce Sarah (Jessica Chastain), is raised as a warrior and the two not only end up becoming Freya’s top soldiers, but also secret lovers. When Freya discovers their love however, she drives a wedge between the two, who are reunited several years later in an effort to overthrow the Ice Queen when it is discovered that she is after Ravena’s magic mirror.

With every film of this kind, there’s bound to be a number of elements which simply don’t work, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War is certainly no exception. The plot is too busy, with a number of motivations, characters and storylines crowding the proceedings. None of this is helped by sloppy editing, which shifts back and forth between characters and their sub-plots at a schizophrenic pace. Also, the over-reliance of humor feels like such an obvious way of stalling for time when the script lags a bit.

In spite of this, I was surprised by the movie’s many effective elements. As expected, the film has a number of incredible visuals which prove more impressive than the first film, from the forest full of magical creatures to the ice walls Freya so magnificently conjures up. At its finest moments, the whole exercise feels incredibly operatic, such as Freya and Ravena’s rivalry and the tumultuous romance between Eric and Sarah. There’s such a grandiose feel to those and other sequences which make the film feel more alive than the average studio blockbuster. It’s because of this feel that the film is able to offer a somewhat telling comment on the power of love, and how it can both damage the heart and strengthen the soul.

Usually, with a film this size, I would say that the performers are only as good as the material allows them to be. Here, that’s only half true. Hemsworth and Chastain perform their parts well, doing serviceable work, but they seem to be too aware of the kind of job the film is. A fat paycheck for him, and a (supposed) contractual obligation for her. Still scenes of the two of them as a couple do muster up some sparks here and there.

On the flip side, Blunt has never been more poetic. She truly believes in her character’s woundedness, beautifully echoing heartbreak and quiet, subtle menace. Theron proved herself in her first time out as Ravena, and she does the same here, stealing every scene and giving her character’s evil a real quality that saves it from becoming camp.

Some applause must be given to the filmmakers for managing to make The Huntsman: Winter’s War function as both a prequel AND a sequel, but the film would have definitely worked better as a stand-alone fairy tale, especially given the way the Snow White character was so awkwardly inserted into the story. In a way, the whole exercise reminds me of The Exorcist 3, which was actually based on Exorcist author William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion, and had nothing to do with the film series. As per studio executive demands, the filmmakers were forced to include a scene featuring an exorcism for the sheer purpose of being able to market the film as another Exorcist sequel. Well, why not I guess?

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