Film Review – The Huntsman: Winter’s War
The Huntsman: Winter's War
In the latest effort of a studio to force feed us an unwanted franchise comes Universal’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016). This follow up to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman shamelessly incorporates pieces of better properties in an attempt to adhere towards the widest possible demographic. You can pin point the formula that went into the production. Kristen Stewart, who played the titular role in Snow White, is nowhere to be found. In her place stands Chris Hemsworth, whose star power has risen due to his Thor films, only here he’s wielding an ax instead of a hammer. There are shades of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and in the most blatant example, two royal sisters, one of which has the power to control snow and ice just like in Frozen (2013).
Unfortunately, we don’t get any catchy songs this go around. Instead, we have a flaccid story that’s as exciting as being draped with a wet towel. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan makes his feature-length debut directing Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin’s screenplay. While there is a visual sophistication, there isn’t much fun to be had here. This is a by-the-numbers affair that doesn’t do anything new or exciting. Obviously, every filmmaker wants to be paid for their work, but the best kind of movies has some artistic merit or tries to say something about society as a whole. We don’t get that in this case. This is a straight up money grab that barely disguises itself as anything else.
For example, advertisements focus in on the strained relationship between Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and ice manipulator Elsa Freya (Emily Blunt). If you remember, Ravenna played the major villain in Snow White. The narrative lays the plot a few years before and immediately after said movie. We walk in expecting a confrontation between the sisters with some well-made action set pieces. The deception is discovered immediately, as Ravenna and Freya are not only not the main characters, they’re barely in the movie to begin with. Theron (who was reportedly paid $10 million to appear in this prequel/sequel/spinoff) is on screen for no more than 10-15 minutes! Talk about making the most of every second!
What we do get is a bland love story between huntsman Eric (Hemsworth) and fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain). Growing up as children in Queen Freya’s kingdom, Eric and Sara broke the cardinal law of the land: falling in love. Yes, that’s right, Queen Freya has a heart of ice (pun intended). Separated by a painfully dumb misunderstanding, Eric and Sara are reunited as adults to help track down the magic mirror (from the first film) before it falls into Freya’s possession making her wrath unstoppable. Along the way, they are accompanied by two of Snow White’s dwarves: Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), as well as two female dwarves they encounter along the way (Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach). What’s supposed to be a rousing adventure devolves into an insufferable slog, as we watch three couples go through the tropes of a clichéd rom-com.
One of the worst things that can come between lovers is a misunderstanding. It’s the worst kind of narrative device because it only amplifies the stupidity of the characters. What happens between Eric and Sara causes a rift between them that can be mended if both were mature enough to see through it. Yet the filmmakers insist on sticking with this dynamic, having the two flirt and fight repeatedly. The worst sequences are when they bicker: Eric trying to rekindle their love while Sara holds on to her take-no-frills attitude. It’s a sitcom relationship in feature length form. Chastain (who reportedly was contractually obligated to appear right after Crimson Peak) is a fine actress, but her character is defined flatly. It’s interesting how Hemsworth and Chastain, both very charismatic performers, have such little chemistry on screen. Their characters sizzle with the heat of vanilla pudding.
Although Blunt and Theron show up for what amounts to extended cameos, they are noticeably having fun with their roles. Blunt plays Freya with a range of conflicting emotions. An early tragedy lead her to become the ice queen, but beneath the concrete veneer lies a humanity that gives her enough complexity to keep us interested to see how her story unfolds. Theron wickedly vamps it up as Ravenna, mugging for the camera whenever the opportunity arises. The costume and production design places Freya and Ravenna in elaborate dresses and fancy castles matching their personalities. The computer-generated imagery isn’t distracting but lends itself to the aesthetic. The dramatic, almost alien like rendering of the sisters would make them appropriate for a Tarsem Singh joint.
Sadly, cool outfits and good production values doesn’t prevent The Huntsman: Winter’s War from being what it is: an amalgamation of recycled ideas to spur people into spending their hard earned cash. Don’t we deserve better than this? Don’t we deserve movies that have some kind of ambition other than making a profit? Sure, the film industry is a business, and as a business needs to generate money. But at the very least, can they give us a product worthy of the money we spend?