Movie Review: ‘The Huntsman: Winter War’


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Justine Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost

Plot: A mismatched band of fantasy archetypes travel the land to destroy a magical artifact that contains the soul of a deceased evil ruler. Said artifact corrupts those in its presence by whispering to them. Unfortunately isn’t actually Lord of the Rings.

Review: Somebody really, really worked hard to get this sequel into cinemas, because there’s a lot of obstacles standing in the way. Snow White and the Huntsman was intended to be the beginning of a gritty fairy tale fantasy franchise and did pretty good box office in spite of middling reviews. Director Rupert Sanders’ was dropped from the film following bad publicity caused by his affair with star Kristen Stewart. His replacement, Frank Darabont, also left the project leaving the original’s special effects director Nicolas-Troyan at the helm. During all this, lead actor Stewart left the series and the sequel is turned into a spin-off, but it is actually a sequel without the main character. With almost no returning characters and no call for a follow up, The Huntsman soldiers determinately on.

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We went in expecting something of a prequel, but only the extraordinary hurried yet over-long prologue fills out the back story before we jump past the events of the first film to continue the story. We start with Evil Queen Theron and her good natured sister Freya (Blunt). When Freya’s heart is broken, she immediately transforms into the magical Ice Queen (as in on that very spot) and starts building an army of children for reasons. Two of the children grow up into the titular Huntsman and Sara. Although they have been trained as killers since childhood in a castle where love is forbidden they haven’t become emotionally stunted sociopaths but afable, optimistic lovers who plan to leave Freya.

Freya kills Sara and Eric the Huntsman is left for dead. After this convoluted first act explained by narrator Liam Neeson (using actual dialogue from the Lord of the Rings prologue), we skip past all that Snow White business to learn that the evil mirror is evil and Eric has to find it and destroy it. Sara turns up again and Freya gets the mirror. As the final confrontation builds, Freya accidently brings Evil Queen Theron back to life. In the final act Theron suddenly becomes the bad guy and we’re expected to sympathise with the Ice Queen for some reason.

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I’m confused…

So the story is a complete mess. It’s very much a straight-to-video level script that tries to work around the massive holes left by the production hurdles. It’s odd that they didn’t stick with the prequel concept, and follow the redemptive path of the Huntsman as he breaks free of Freya’s influence, instead pushing through a plot that pretends Snow White isn’t around and they’re mandated to bring Charlize Theron back into the mix. It’s all sloppily patched together with action scenes that revolve around Eric throwing an axe at someone’s face. We’re left with endless questions and glaring continuity errors, such as why Eric scales a cliff next to a castle to jump over to it instead of staying at the bottom and hoping through a window. Or why Sara fights with modern martial arts techniques.

On occasion we see some creativity slip through. There are some interesting set pieces and creatures. The river of melted gold was pretty clever, even if it doesn’t get used for anything, as are the creepy goblins with gold armour. The meadow of animals covered in fauna was likewise visually interesting, but it’s nothing more than scenery. Unfortunately every good piece of CGI or creative design is countered by two or three poor ones. Freya’s castle appears to be made of styrofoam off-cuts and many creatures appear cartoonish. The moments when Nick Frost’s face doesn’t quite fit onto his dwarven body are pretty disconcerting.

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Yeah, that was my reaction as well.

Considering the cast involved and the money spent, it’s a shame that the resources weren’t used on a better project. You’d need a shipping container to transport all the awards this cast has won during their careers and design team have some talent. Instead someone up the hierarchy has forced this film out expecting to generate profit based on brand recognition. This isn’t anyone’s passion project.

Also there isn’t a war. Where was the ‘Winter War’?

Rating: TWO out of TEN

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