Synopsis – As a war between rival queen sisters Ravenna and Freya escalates, Eric and fellow warrior Sara, members of the Huntsmen army raised to protect Freya, try to conceal their forbidden love as they combat Ravenna’s wicked intentions.
My Take – In a time when we don’t get sequels to films we deserve (Pacific Rim) and instead get a follow up to a film no one wanted. Universal brings the second installment to their 2012 underwhelming fantasy film which seemed to have done enough to warranty it. Released in 2012, Snow White And The Huntsman with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the leads, was a film serviceable at best with some nice visual effects and with a superb performance by Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen Ravenna. Plus the film made more news for affair between the in relationship Kristen Stewart (with Robert Pattison) and the very much married director Rupert Sanders. Naturally, I was not interested in a sequel. But being a sucker for fantasy and being a little intrigued by the trailer, I thought I would give it a chance. Going in with pretty low expectations and felt pretty satisfied with what I saw. However it is a definite improvement over its bland predecessor. Neither Snow White nor Kristen Stewart from the earlier film return for this follow-up, though it is anyone’s guess whether their exclusion is due to the actress being too expensive for this decidedly lower-budget installment or because of her relationship-ending fling. In her character’s place, it is perhaps only natural and inevitable that Chris Hemsworth‘s axe-wielding hero Eric would be elevated to lead status, in order to form the narrative glue between the events of that 2012 original and this latest – and if you’re wondering about Charlize Theron‘s evil queen Ravenna, let’s just say that she plays at best a supporting role that is much less significant than the promotional materials have made her out to be. Rather than to choose between a prequel and a sequel, French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and his writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin have decided to make their live-action fairy tale a bit of both, resulting in a time jump that will leave those unfamiliar with the earlier film more than a little confused.
The story follows our characters before the events of Snow White And The Huntsman as it shows how calculating temptress Ravenna (Charlize Theron) seduces kings and murders them with her magic to ascend to power, while her younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) pursues the ideals of romance and becomes enamored with a young man promised to another. When she’s brutally betrayed by her lover, the heartbroken young girl gains her magical powers and leaves her sister to the lands in the north to create her own ice kingdom – one where love is outlawed and fear, intimidation, and bloodlust are the only virtues. Raising all her conquered enemies’ children to be her soldiers, Freya creates a massive and ferocious army. Despite her oppressive rules, Freya’s best huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), and her finest archer, Sara (Jessica Chastain), fall in love – only to be savagely separated when the embittered queen uncovers their crime. Years pass and Eric goes on to aid Snow White in vanquishing Ravenna in the southern lands, revealing a short era of peace. But it’s not long before Ravenna’s magic mirror is discovered to be harboring a powerful evil, prompting Snow White to entrust Eric in disposing of the relic. When Freya learns the whereabouts of her sister’s mystical heirloom, she becomes determined to acquire it first, forcing Eric with his two henchmen male dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) to embark on a dangerous quest to stop the “ice queen” from attaining the almighty artifact. This quest is framed at both the start and end of the film by a strange and rather hastily delivered – yet nonetheless enjoyable screenplay. The plot is very straight forward but apart from the common problem the characters have, namely that not everybody has a reason to join the adventure. Seriously, the dwarf characters were obviously there for comic relief but they added little to nothing to the plot and I did not understand why they accompanied the Huntsman in the first place. As sympathetic as we want to be to the writers for having to keep Snow White out of the picture, the seven-year leap around the events of the original does their film absolutely no favors. What transpired between Ravenna and Freya in those seven years, or Sara for that matter, is probably the most glaring logic gap, not to mention why Freya would suddenly decide upon her sister’s death that she should acquire the magic mirror for herself. It also begs the question why Freya never sought to doubt Ravenna’s hand in orchestrating the death of her daughter in the years since the former left to create her own fiefdom, and only decides to do so when the latter is somehow magically resurrected by the mirror. Nicolas-Troyan‘s experience in the visual effects department (as opposed to the storytelling department) also means that his priority is to deliver spectacle, and true enough, the wintry vistas as well as the CGI-ed sorcery looks sumptuous. There are Colleen Atwood‘s lavish costumes to feast on as well, the veteran designer on many a Tim Burton film going all out to make Freya look coolly stunning and Ravenna wickedly ravishing. Yet all that style cannot quite distract from a distinct lack of substance, which borrows liberally from a certain Disney animated hit with that song ‘Let It Go’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘Game of Thrones’ and even ‘The Hunger Games’.
Oh yes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a shred of originality in this half- baked mish-mash of a product which makes no apologies for taking ingredients from other vastly superior fairy-tales and/ or fantasy adventures. Yet, I cannot hate this film. I could find reasons to hate it – it’s not a good movie, after all – but there’s something about its confused weirdness (and blithe badness) that I find endearing. This is a movie that exists only to serve a corporate mandate, that has no narrative purpose (or drive) and that is set in a world literally no one alive cares about, but all of these things add up to a bizarrely off-kilter work that, against my own better judgment, charmed me. The film does have its own set of flaws, but is an undeniable improvement over the first which appears even more average due to the new life found in the second. Some dodgy and questionable accents aside, the main four and the supporting four all compliment each other and offer strong and more complex performances (especially those returning), if only the underrated Sam Clafflin got more of a look in. Chris Hemsworth is a far better protagonist than a disinterested Kristen Stewart in the first film. His reputation for playing Thor in Marvel‘s cinematic universe gives him a bullet-proof assurance that he can deliver even the corniest lines with the help of his rugged charm. Notwithstanding a clumsily-penned love story arc, he strikes a decent chemistry with Jessica Chastain. Chastain surprisingly takes part in here (considering that fantasy genre is not in her wheelhouse) and she convincingly portrays a driven and earnest action heroine. Both Hemsworth and Chastain are however burdened with a Scottish accent throughout the film. For those unaware, Chastain‘s character Sara plays the kickass wife of Hemsworth‘s Eric, and the plot calls for her to have a Scottish accent, naturally. Emily Blunt as a conflicted antagonist having unjustified actions brings a roller- coaster of emotions from vulnerability to wrath in her craft. She gives a valiant effort on a couple of her emotional scenes. Her on-screen sister, Charlize Theron, who is obviously not dead from the trailer may have a lesser screen time but she is still poised to steal the show with her menacing death-stares and spiky tentacles. She even remains to be lethal in a liquid gold form. The digitally- shrunk quartet of dwarfs, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith are a welcome addition despite being obviously there for comic-relief for they add little to nothing to the plot. Plus we got Liam Neeson as the narrator. On the whole, ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ is a mildly enjoyable decent fantasy flick, but despite being better than its predecessor, it add nothing to the genre and seems utterly insufficient to compensate for what it is screamingly lacking.
Directed – Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 114 minutes