“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux


     In this sequel to 2011’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” we are introduced to a straight out-of-the-storybook alternate tale that takes place both before AND after the events of that film. We are given a brand new villain as well as a new hero, while managing to keep the original villain and hero! How’s that for doubling your pleasure? While I’d like to pretend that this is all fun and games, a cloud of absurdity does manage to hang over this film’s proverbial head, making the Sword of Damocles pale in comparison to Ravenna and her witchcraft tentacles!


     Sisters Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt) enjoy a cordial relationship as the yin and yang of impishness in their kingdom. After a devastating loss of child, Freya turns cold (in more ways than one) and creates her own kingdom in the North where she reigns as the “Ice Queen,” raising an army of warriors known as huntsmen. Being taught as children to never love another, two individuals excel their ranks – Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), and promptly fall in love! Of course, Freya must put an end to this right away by separating the two by a wall of ice, and having Eric believe that Sara is dead. Taking leave from the kingdom, (insert events of first film here), Eric later meets up with King William (Sam Claflin), who commissions the Huntsman to find and destroy the magic mirror. Accompanying him on his quest are two of Snow White’s dwarfs, the hilarious duo of Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon of “The Trip” fame). Of course, it should be of no secret to anyone that we shall find out that Ravenna did not die in “Snow White and the Huntsman” and returns to usurp her sister’s burgeoning villainy.


     Charlize Theron commands the screen (and the forces of evil!) for her sophomore effort as the Wicked Queen, who again, only appears at the beginning and last quarter of the film. This amazing actress is aging oh-so gracefully (if at all) and is as gorgeous as ever, especially in this diabolical role. While I do feel that Emily Blunt gave a passable, yet slightly underwhelming performance as Freya (presumably based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”), this only becomes more glaring when she is forced to share the screen with her magnetizing co-star. Lead actor Chris Hemsworth, top-billed here, becomes a much-more polished Huntsman the second time around, and channels more of his “Thor” persona (it’s just automatic at this point). If you happen to get the opportunity – compare his performance here with that of the first film where he was essentially a Neanderthal. This obviously makes no sense due to the bookending timeline of this pre/sequel, yet is quite understandable because of his growth as a film star.


     The ultra-busy Jessica Chastain did a fantastic job portraying the warrior Sara, yet I felt that her chemistry with Hemsworth dwindled as the film drew on (however it did reach a “boiling” point in a sexy hot springs (?) sequence near the beginning of the film). Nevertheless, one of the best examples of casting in the entire film owes to the presence of the returning Nick Frost and Rob Brydon as a diminished (no pun intended) band of dwarfs who provide the lion’s share of the movie’s “intentional” laughs. Even taking part in the action are two female dwarfs, Bromwyn and Doreena (respectively played by Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach), who serve as both hilarious foils and prospective love interests for the boys. Not really conspicuous by her absence is the star of the first film, Kristen Stewart, because let’s be honest, that ship kind of sailed after it left Twilight-land. Besides, the character of Snow White is only seen from the back in a moment’s notice. So, problem solved!


     While there are a number of good things in this film, one has to wonder why a sequel was greenlit that borrows so much from other fantasy movies. From “Frozen” to “The Golden Compass” and even “Legend of the Guardians,” a lot of this stuff has been done before. A scenery-chewing performance by the likes of Charlize Theron does not a good film make, though it certainly helps. After it is all said and done, there will always be a worse way to spend an evening. And, as long as you can look past the ridiculousness you just may wind up enjoying this more than the first film.

** (two out of four stars)

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