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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

April 22, 2016
The Huntsman: Winter's War

The two most disappointing aspects of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman were, in order, Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s not really that Kristen Steward was untalented, but she was not nearly up to the task of playing opposite Charlize Theron’s full-throated melodrama. It was like casting Marilyn Monroe opposite Sir John Gielgud in a production of Titus Andronicus.

It’s at least a slight improvement, then, that Snow White doesn’t show up for more than one medium, over-the-shoulder shot in The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Emily Blunt is at least a little better equipped to meet Theron on her own terms as Ravenna’s sister Freya, the Ice Queen. And yes, that means it’s cribbing the same Hans Christian Andersen story that Disney mined for Frozen.

The script wraps this story around the previous movie, acting as both prequel and sequel. Before the events of Snow White, we see the tragedy that froze Freya’s heart. She flees north, conquering kingdoms and kidnapping their children back to her ice palace, where she trains them as her elite “huntsmen”. The best of whom are, naturally enough, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) from the last movie, and Sara (Jessica Chastain), the wife he’d claimed was dead. As they grew up together they’d fallen for each other, in defiance of the Ice Queen’s strict ban on love within her kingdom. Eric was cast out, and we already saw what happened after that.

But now, after the events of Snow White and Ravenna’s defeat, her mirror still torments her usurper. Eric is charged with accompanying it to a sanctuary where it can be kept safe from Freya’s hands. Along the way he meets back up with a clutch of dwarves (Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach), and Sara, who isn’t quite as dead as he’d believed. The sextet pair off into couples, and head north to find the mirror and keep it safe.

If this seems at once overcomplicated and bland, well, yeah it kind of is. The Snow Queen is a notoriously difficult story to adapt when you’re actually trying to do it well, and this is little more than a cash grab, with just enough of a script to get us from one visual effect to another.

And this focus on the effects is no surprise, considering that they were easily the best part of Snow White and that Winter’s War director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan supervised them. He also directed the second unit for Maleficent, whose maybe-understandable-overreaction-to-tragedy storyline gets cribbed more than a little here.

Unfortunately, with Ravenna sidelined for most of the movie we get little to match up to the very best of what we got last time around. Nicolas-Troyan may be a whiz at rendering a fantastic vision into celluloid — okay, well digital — reality, but he seems to fall short of Rupert Sanders in coming up with that vision in the first place. And I say that knowing full well how low the film nerd cultural esteem of Sanders is right now.

On balance, The Huntsman: Winter’s War edges out Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s still a mixed bag. The cast all seems to be pulling in the same direction this time, but there’s little sense of where they’re headed. Does that cohesion make up for the lesser role played by Theron’s Ravenna? it’s hard to say.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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