Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach
Written by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Craig Mazin and (based on the characters created) Evan Daugherty
Running Time: 114 mins
Release date: 4th April 2016
Back in 2012, one of my first reviews here was for Snow White and the Huntsman. At the time, I mentioned that I didn’t have a clue who the film was aimed at, being that the fantasy fanboys wouldn’t go to see a film about Snow White while the princess fans would be horrified by the violence. There must have been an audience for it somewhere along the line, for now, we get the prequel/sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Liam Neeson’s emotionless narration informs us that “some fairy tales never end”. On the evidence of this, he might have spoken too soon.
Before Snow White ruined Queen Ravenna’s chances of being the fairest in the land, she and her sister, Freya, led a happy existence until Freya became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. Freya’s happiness was soon destroyed when her child was killed, sending her into a cold-hearted rage that made her an Ice Queen. Forming her own kingdom away from Ravenna, she stole orphans to create a mighty army in a land where love was punishable by death. Out of the orphans came Eric, the Huntsman and Sara, a female warrior. When the pair falls in love, Freya stops that love dead in its tracks, leaving Eric to leave her kingdom. Years later, Eric discovers that Ravenna’s mirror is missing and so goes on a quest to find it, before Freya can use it for her own evil plans.
Now I know what you are thinking. What on earth is he on about? Well, this is the film’s major problem. Instead of the simplistic ideas found in Snow White, the plot, all explained within the first half hour, is so complex and convoluted that you frankly don’t care. Then once we have left the world of BSW (before Snow White) to events after the first film, it falls into formulaic fantasy cliches and has Eric and his band of helpers on a quest where they come across all kind of villainous types (well, a bunch of gold covered monkeys who obviously escaped from the Planet of the Apes).
Visually, the film is quite inventive. Fairies dart around with a trail of fairy dust. Snakes are covered in grass and hedgehogs covered in butterflies. These visuals cannot compensate for ropey plotting and a typically sexist approach to action, in which we are led to believe that Sara is the best female warrior around and yet most of the time are having to be saved by Eric.
Attracting four big Hollywood names, all are badly underserved. Chris Hemsworth struggles as The Huntsman with his dubious Celt accent and while he can handle the action scenes well enough, the rest of the script gives him precious little to do. The same applies for Jessica Chastain, who, like her male counterpart, seems to relish in the fights but is fairly empty as far as character development is concerned. Emily Blunt, too, seems to be holding back as the Ice Queen, and you crave for her to go panto villain. Charlize Theron, on the other hand, slips into her role of Ravenna with ease but disappears for most of the film, only to reappear as a special effect.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad, as Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach save the day as dwarves with their potty mouths and sarcastic comments. They steal every scene they are in and, at least, inject some life into the muddled proceedings. I would have gladly watched a two-hour film about these four characters than the clunkiness of this mess.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is exactly that, a mess that hasn’t learnt from the lessons the mistakes the first film made. I’m still not sure who this film is pitched at and while it may entertain those looking for something that isn’t a superhero film, it comes at you like a superhero film but with a more contrived plot. Kristen Stewart, who played Snow White in the original film, appears briefly at the very beginning and then doesn’t even feature in a scene involving Snow White. She definitely made a very wise decision to stay away.