‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ Review: A Lot of Stuff You Like Crammed Into a Sequel You Won’t
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a prequel, a sequel, a spinoff, a mashup, a bit of a remake, and almost a movie. It contains many recognizable elements from actual films — plot, characters, scenes, imagery, music — almost all of them inspired by (if not outright stolen from) other far more original movies and television shows. There are bits and pieces shamelessly swiped from Frozen, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus a few odds and ends from the production it is ostensibly following, 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s like the movie version of a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers; superficially indistinguishable from the real thing, but lacking any semblance of a soul.
Snow White, previously played by Kristen Stewart, doesn’t appear but she’s mentioned frequently and the whole final act revolves around protecting her kingdom — because nothing says huge dramatic stakes like an unseen character ruling over an unseen place. Instead, Snow White and The Huntsman 2: Winter’s War, follows the Huntsman character (Chris Hemsworth) in the years before and after the first film’s events. Before he hooked up with Snow White he was an orphan who fell under the control of a queen named Freya (Emily Blunt), the sister of Charlize Theron’s wicked Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman. Freya has the power to control cold and ice, and the power to seem enough like Elsa from Frozen to attract fans of that movie without sparking a lawsuit from Disney. (When Liam Neeson’s narrator explains Freya’s rise to power he marvels at the way she turned the green fields of the north “into a frozen wasteland,” because Liam Neeson is so baller he gives absolutely zero f—s about intellectual property rights.)
Freya discovered her icy abilities after her beau betrayed her and killed their baby; from that day forward, Freya forbade all love in her kingdom. In a perverse attempt to fill the void in her heart, she took in children from the lands she conquered and trained them to become hardened killers. Hemsworth’s Eric is the best of her brigade, rivaled only by a warrior named Sara (Jessica Chastain). Despite the prohibition on procreation, Eric and Sara fall for one another, consummate their lust, and secretly marry, all within the space of a single hot tub scene. (The hot tub might have been a time machine, which would explain the speed of the relationship.)
Freya quickly discovers the couple and casts out Eric, prompting the events of Snow White and the Huntsman. The rest of the movie, set seven years later, follows Eric and the one dwarf from the first film who could be convinced to return (Nick Frost) plus a few more colorful characters (including a new dwarf played by The Trip’s Rob Brydon) as they track down Ravenna’s Magic Mirror, which went missing in transport to some kind of sanctuary, which is never seen or explained because, again, nothing makes you care more about something in a movie than never seeing it or fully understanding it.
Hemsworth, basically playing Thor with a slightly different accent (Scottish) and a slightly different weapon (an axe), oozes the same charming overconfidence that became his bread and butter as the God of Thunder. And he has solidly combative chemistry with Chastain, who looks like she’s having a blast playing a badass. The same goes for Theron; her role is frustratingly small, but she gives 110 percent to every scene, going way over the top as a glammed-out black-goo-spewing vamp from hell. (Blunt’s role is the least fun, but at least she gets to ride on a CGI polar bear at one point.)
Theron’s presence alone makes the big action climax a campy hoot, and it’s clear the actors are having fun. If only the viewer felt the same way about the rest of Winter’s War. It looks okay (the film’s director, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, worked on the visual effects for the first Huntsman), if overly familiar from a hundred other fantasy epics and live-action fairy tales. (At one point, the Huntsman and his crew appear to wander into the digital backlot from Disney’s The Jungle Book.) More importantly, though, it feels familiar. There’s almost nothing in this movie that hasn’t been seen elsewhere before. And done a whole lot better.
Watching Winter’s War would be preferable to sitting quietly in the dark for two hours. It’s just not preferable to watching any of the movies it so freely steals from. There’s really nothing wrong with it beyond the fact that it has absolutely no reason to exist except to make money. All Hollywood movies are designed to make money, of course, but usually they do other things too. They inspire, or educate, or express an artist’s vision. They say something about the world in which they were made. The only thing this patchy pastiche says is that movie studios are so desperate for franchises these days that they’ll make a sequel to a Snow White movie without Snow White.