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Huntsman: Winter's War, The
Universal // PG-13 // April 22, 2016
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
When the news broke that Charlize Theron would be playing the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, I could barely hold my excitement. It didn't take long for me to discover the trailer and that Kristen Stewart was playing Snow White, and my smile quickly turned into a frown. The final product turned out to be just as terrible, with only Theron and the costume design making it watchable. Nevertheless, the folks at Universal Pictures developed a prequel/sequel that would be released four years later, but with even more star power. Perhaps it's time that it's realized that even the most talented of stars can't save a bad screenplay.
After Ravenna's (Charlize Theron) magical mirror is stolen, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow warrior, Sara (Jessica Chastain), must fight to retrieve it. However, Ravenna has a sister named Freya (Emily Blunt) with a massive army in the north, and she's willing to do anything to obtain the power of the mirror.
Audiences may be shocked to hear that there's actually a good film buried somewhere far under the surface of The Huntsman: Winter's War. The introduction of Freya is welcome, as is the return of Ravenna. Freya is forced to confront her personal demons, as the one law of her kingdom is that nobody may fall in love. Naturally, this is the result of a tragic backstory that has turned her heart to ice. However, we're only given this plot in short bursts, and Ravenna doesn't show her face until the climax of the film. Instead of telling the story of this Ice Queen searching for the mirror, it would have been much more interesting if she already possessed this power, but had to battle her sister's manipulative tendencies throughout. As is, this is a tedious venture that takes an eternity to get to its inevitable ending. Don't be deceived by the trailers and posters: the rivalry of these two magic siblings is put on the back burner.
So, what is it that the film is focusing on exactly? It decides to follow the much-less interesting perspective of Chris and Sara. These are a pair of generic protagonists that never inspire any sort of admiration in the audience. Of course, there's a sappy love story between them, which can be best described as tiresome. While it's primarily used as a narrative device, it takes up far too much of the feature's duration. Each time they were on screen, the only notion that crossed my mind was, "When will Freya be back?" Four dwarves (played by Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach) join Chris and Sara on their quest, which adds to the film's tacky nature. As a fan of the fantasy genre, dwarves have always irritated me, and The Huntsman: Winter's War is no exception. They act as the comedic relief in a film that already has it, but never needed it in the first place. What's wrong with a slightly more mature take on the story?
Following the press screening, a fellow member of the press mentioned a comment that couldn't be more accurate: this film doesn't have much of an audience, apart from die-hard fans of Chastain, Blunt, and Theron. The main love story will be far too sappy for adults, yet it's a bit too violent and there are far too many sexual references for children. This is a screenplay that doesn't know what it wants to be, as it's constantly all over the place. After its disappointing predecessor, one would imagine that a sequel would be more focused. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't try to make something that would make audiences feel differently about the story being told. This isn't a slight stumble; it fell right on its face.
The true draw to bring audiences to the theater for this prequel/sequel is the cast. Chris Hemsworth is clearly having a good time as Eric, although his performance can best be described as dopey, as if nobody let him know that he isn't playing Thor here. However, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron try their best to turn this into something worthwhile as Ravenna and Freya, respectively. Blunt adds a decent amount of depth to the character, which instantly makes her the most interesting person on screen. Theron is once again deliciously evil, although her screen time is far too limited. Meanwhile, Jessica Chastain does what she can as Sara, but there's no saving this character. Perhaps we will never know why she was told to use the cringe-worthy accent. This cast deserves much better than this.
Even despite the poor material, The Huntsman: Winter's War proves to execute its visual design with style, as did its predecessor. The environments look great, as do the special effects boasted throughout Freya's few fight sequences. However, the costume design is what impresses most. Much like Snow White and the Huntsman, this is entirely worthy of an Oscar nomination for its costume design, as there is such careful attention paid to the smallest of details in the dresses for Freya and Ravenna. There are even special sound effects added for the costumes, as Freya's makes that of ice shards rubbing against one another as she walks around. Now, if only the writers were as efficient as the costume designers.
Complete with terrible voice-over narration and all, this is yet another massive disappointment for the blockbuster fantasy genre. The pieces to make something worthwhile were present, although they were never quite put together. The screenplay focuses on a sappy love story that nobody is connected to, rather than exploring the possibly complex Freya. Emily Blunt allows the character to present some of this depth, although the filmmakers have ensured that nothing takes screen time away from a dopey Hemsworth. At the very least, audiences will be walking in expecting an exciting showdown between Freya and Ravenna, which is never entirely delivered upon. The Huntsman: Winter's War is a tedious exercise that could have been so much better. Rent it.