How do you solve a problem like Kristen Stewart? If you’re the filmmakers of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, you write Snow White entirely out of the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. The film’s clearly a valuable property, so it’s no wonder that Universal would return to that well with a sequel, this time directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the visual effects supervisor on the first film. But the script acrobatics result in a bizarre prequel/sequel mash-up in which Snow White doesn’t show up in her own fairy tale.
The film focuses on two of the best elements from the first film: Charlize Theron’s wickedly beautiful and scheming Ravenna, a queen who desires power and to be the fairest of them all, and Chris Hemsworth’s hunky ax-throwing huntsman, Eric. Added to the mix is Ravenna’s sister Freya (Emily Blunt), a literal ice queen, and Sara (Jessica Chastain), a fellow huntsman and Eric’s true love.
In the prequel portion, Freya suffers a devastating loss at the hands of her lover, which causes her to transform into ice. She retreats to the North to rule as the Ice Queen, where she wears glittery gowns and builds an army by kidnapping children and forcing them to become her huntsmen (and women). Eric and Sara fall in love there, but Freya, jaded, has only one rule: no love.
In the sequel part, seven years later, Eric and Sara have been driven apart, Ravenna’s been dispatched, and Freya is on a kingdom-conquering, kid-snatching roll. The tricky mirror-mirror has gone missing, too, and Eric’s got to get his hands on it before Freya does.
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The film feels disjointed and lackluster. The scenes and character introductions feel random, the time-jump implausible, and no one is compelling, especially Hemsworth.
It also seems as if the writers have been catching up on Game of Thrones, because there are a few similarities – Chastain’s arrow-slinging Sara sports a ridiculous Scottish accent to match Jon Snow’s girlfriend Ygritte, and the stormy lovers have to scale ice walls.
One bright spot are the dwarves used for comic relief. Once you get past the low-brow humor, they inject a much-needed levity, and Sheridan Smith almost steals the show as the sassy Mrs. Bromwyn. The visual effects are amazing, particularly the shape-shifting liquid gold of the mirror.
Every time Charlize Theron is on screen, the movie gets crazy campy and somewhat interesting. Ultimately, the film presents a message that emotional vulnerability can be a source of strength. It’s a bit self-help-y, but by the end it feels somewhat earned. Shockingly, it’s not through the relationship of Eric and Sara but through the feuding sister queens. Even though they’re battling with ice crystals and stabby tentacles, the resentments and revelations between them feel authentic. However, despite all the talent involved, this Huntsman wildly misses its target.
‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. 1:54. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Paris/Bourbon Drive-In, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.