Mark Reviews Movies

The Huntsman: Winter's War


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Emily Blunt, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Charlize Theron

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy action violence and some sensuality)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 4/22/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 21, 2016

It's safe to say that the absence of Snow White from a narrative that revolves around her is conspicuous. It also makes the opening beats of the story of The Huntsman: Winter's War, which transition from a before-the-fairy-tale prologue to the plot of a sequel with little warning, far more confounding than they need to be. In one moment, Snow White is unimportant—a footnote for the narrator to point out before telling us that the story is about someone else. In the next, the character sets in motion the rest of the plot without ever making an appearance.

There is, of course, a reason that Snow White is missing from the story of this sequel, although it's unimportant to the movie itself. Kristen Stewart, who played the fairy-tale heroine in the movie's effective predecessor Snow White and the Huntsman, decided not to return for the sequel, although she does appear in an ever-so-brief flashback to the previous movie (The back of a double fills in for the character during one of the story's many resulting gaps). Instead of finding a more natural and less obvious way around the lack of Snow White in the sequel to a story about Snow White, the screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin simply pretends that we won't notice the deficiency.

One can almost sense the rewrites here—the attempts to maintain as much of a preexisting script without resorting to a complete overhaul of the story. The prologue reshapes the story's focus to a supporting character. A previously-thought dead character is resurrected to fill in for the absentee warrior version of Snow White. A new villain makes way for a previously vanquished one, and whenever the characters aren't wasting time filling in narrative gaps, a narrator (voiced by an uncredited Liam Neeson) tries to justify the movie's existence by telling us what we probably should be seeing.

The obvious limitations of the production hardly matter, though, in the face of what has resulted. The plot not only doesn't make much sense without a vital character, but it also feels cobbled together from rough ideas of how a story that ended with "happily ever after" could continue. It doesn't, really. It simply moves from one sketchy, generic concept to the next until a climactic battle.

The prologue explains the wicked Ravenna's (Charlize Theron, whose appearance in this section undermines the character's return later) gradual grabs for power until she found her way to Snow White's kingdom, and it also introduces her sister Freya (Emily Blunt), whose magical powers are awakened by tragedy.

She becomes the Ice Queen of the North, who conquers lands using soldiers called the Huntsman, whom she captures in battle and raises in the way of war. The two best of these soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth, trying his darnedest to charm the pants off of material that's already naked) and his eventual wife Sara (Jessica Chastain). Love is forbidden in Freya's realm, and after she discovers the betrayal of her favorite children, the queen kills Sara and casts Eric into exile.

Seven years later, the events of the first film have passed, and now Eric is looking for some peace. The magic mirror, though, has started casting an evil spell on those who look upon it. The unseen Snow White wants it sent far away from these lands, but it has fallen into unknown hands. Eric ends up searching for mirror with a pair of dwarves named Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), as well as the wife whom he believed had been killed.

It's difficult to look at any of this without a cynical eye. Sara's return seems like an attempt to offer a substitute for the lack of Snow White, especially considering the strange, inexplicable motive that Freya has to fake the heroine's death. Sara goes back and forth on a whim between being jaded over the belief that Eric abandoned her and rekindling her love for him (The conflict between these two modes makes even less sense with a later revelation).

Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and his design team maintain the first film's blend of elements from history and fantasy, although it leans heavily toward the latter. At first, within the realm of the Ice Queen, it's evocative, with pillars of jagged icicles and structures fortified by stone and ice, but the movie's look only goes so far. Eventually, even that starts to feel as nonspecific as the rest of the movie.

The Huntsman: Winter's War doesn't seem to have much of a purpose beyond trying to cash in on its position of starting a potential franchise. The movie isn't simply missing half of its brand, though. It's missing an identity of its own.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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