Movie Review: The Huntsman – Winter’s War

The Huntsman features enjoyable visual effects and decent performances from a stellar cast, unfortunately that’s not enough to save it from turning into an unnecessary sequel because of its uninvolving plot, negligible characters, and reductive genre tricks.

Long before the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) was thought vanquished by Snow White’s blade, she watched silently as her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), suffered a heartbreaking betrayal and fled their kingdom. With Freya’s ability to freeze any enemy, the young ice queen has spent decades in a remote wintry palace raising a legion of deadly huntsmen—including Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain)—only to find that her prized two defied her one demand: Forever harden your hearts to love. When Freya learns of her sister’s demise, she summons her remaining soldiers to bring the Magic Mirror home to the only sorceress left who can harness its power. But once she discovers Ravenna can be resurrected from its golden depths, the wicked sisters threaten this enchanted land with twice the darkest force it’s ever seen. Now, their amassing army shall prove undefeatable…unless the banished huntsmen who broke their queen’s cardinal rule can fight their way back to one another. [Universal Pictures]

No one asked for a follow-up to the mediocre Snow White and The Huntsman, but after earning enough cash to recoup its budget and positive reception for Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna, producers greenlight a sequel worth 115 million.

True enough, Charlize Theron is perfect for the role. The rest of the stellar cast also do their best to sell this movie. Chris Hemsworth is charming as The Huntsman. Jessica Chastain is decent despite being the token bad ass female. Emily Blunt turns Freya into a relatable character by adding enough vulnerability to show a grieving mother underneath the cold exterior. Even the actors who play the dwarfs, though solely used for comic relief, didn’t phone it in.

The sequel continues to use its predecessor’s look – a fairy tale with an ornate Gothic flair – and features unique costume design, such as Ravenna’s intimidating yet elegant crowns and Freya’s ornate bodice armor. Anyone who loved the fluid visual effects of Snow White will find that there are a couple of tricks here to admire.

However beyond these embellishments, the sequel doesn’t have anything compelling to offer to justify its existence.

The movie gives us a glimpse of Ravenna before Snow White ruined her game but provides nothing new about what we already know – she’s an evil broad preying on unsuspecting kings. Instead of trying to make a decent spin-off out of the one memorable character in the franchise, the movie chooses to focus on Eric, using the first half as an overlong backstory for the Huntsman.

The script doesn’t give him anything interesting to do and litters his path with underwritten ideas.

The plot breezes through his origin as a soldier which gives you nothing to invest in. The audience is left to assume that Freya managed to turn him and other hapless captives into elite soldiers just by her mere presence with nary a rebellion. His love story, which is one of the themes in the movie, doesn’t have any build-up. A few furtive glances and banters are enough to make them break decades of brainwashing. It doesn’t help that Hemsworth has no chemistry with Chastain (Eric has more with Mrs. Bromwyn) both with distracting Scottish accents.

The movie cuts this story short and makes an ungainly leap to capitalize on the only thing that its predecessor is remembered for – Ravenna. The movie turns into a mash-up of Frozen and Narnia to shoehorn her into the story. She aims to reclaim her domain from Snow White who couldn’t be bothered to care about the trouble in the North.

There’s a mini action adventure subplot inserted as an intermission before the 3rd act, but only to stage an entrance where Emily Blunt rides a CGI polar bear. You’d think that with all the magic in this movie, there’d be at least epic action. Unfortunately, the extent of Freya’s destructive powers is similar to Frozone and wasn’t given the chance to have good showdown with Ravenna. As you may have guessed by the now, the movie wraps up neatly with another hint for a third installment.

The Huntsman is indeed like a fairytale – heroes are indestructible, simplistic villains are defeated (well sort of), and its happily ever after. But this so-called gritty revision offers nothing different and has reductive tricks based on visuals from Middle Earth.

This franchise does have potential elements. It has a singular look thanks to the Colleen Atwood. Charlize Theron is perfect for a role that could be a complex villain. Emily Blunt added the desperately needed emotional depth in the movie. Jessica Chastain could be more than a bland medieval Katniss. 

Unfortunately, this studio-spearheaded movie is only a cash grab. It attempts to be a bad ass female driven film but doesn’t put its talents to good use. Essentially, it’s an under cooked potboiler with scraps from better fantasy epics. Worse it’s an unnecessary sequel that adds nothing to or improve upon the original. 

My Rating: 4/10

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