As a fan of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, I watched The Huntsman: Winter’s War with reasonably high expectations, believing that the film should, at least, be as enjoyable as its predecessor. However, I could not have been more wrong. What should have been an entertaining romp in a dark fairytale world fast becomes a tangled mess of a film that doesn’t have a clue about its own identity.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is both a prequel and sequel that touches on the events that occurred before Snow White and The Huntsman and after. The story begins with Queen Ravenna (Theron) and her sister Freya (Blunt) and sees the latter flee the kingdom after her true love murders their new-born baby. Dark. Equipped with the powers of ice, Freya recruits all the children of the kingdom, snatching them from their parents and raising them as an army of powerful Huntsmen – even darker. The Huntsmen include Eric (Hemsworth) and his forbidden love, Sara (Chastain). After Ravenna’s death, Freya seeks the Magic Mirror for herself and will stop at nothing to get her frozen fingers on it.
Winter’s War is far colder than it should be as it fills its almost two-hour runtime with a series of attempts at comedy that are unfunny and surprisingly offensive. A couple of dwarves are paired with Eric as they, too, set out on a mission to retrieve the Magic Mirror before Freya does. Their only purpose is to offer hideously bad one-liners that attempt to give the audience a break from the film’s dark and bleak storyline. They, also, encounter a couple of female dwarves along the way who are as foul-mouthed and annoying as the men. Some will enjoy their dwarf-y banter, but I found it ridiculously immature; deviating far too much from the main story and failing to fit the flow of the film. The story could have done without these childish gags and moments of wedged-in comedy.
The lack of fluidity between the darkness and the humour made these shifts in tone feel uneven and distracting, hindering the film rather than aiding it. The film’s inability to decide whether it wants to be a dark drama or a comedy screams at the seams and suggests that the writers just shrugged and thought, “let’s do both” without giving it a proper thought. What should have been a story that blended its darkness and humour evenly becomes a clash of opposing ideas that never feel happily at home together.
You ask “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of the cast?” and I say “Charlize Theron, of course”. As the obvious star from the first film, it was going to take a lot for this Queen’s throne to be threatened, but with Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain joining the cast, there should have been some competition. Alas, Chastain’s shockingly bad Scottish accent – I think it was Scottish, anyway – deemed her almost unwatchable for her entire time on screen and Blunt was never given a real moment to shine. She did well to copy the magical moves of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen and stare icily at her fellow characters, but overall, she suffered from the poor script and the overall frosty air of predictability that hovered over her – and most of the film, in fact.
Winter’s War is another film that believes it can hide behind striking visuals and mask its muddled storyline with glorious 3D and remarkable feats in special effects. When Ravenna and Freya brandish their magical powers of opposing black and white, it does make for exciting and dazzling viewing. The similarities to Frozen cannot be ignored when witnessing Freya’s fluid demonstrations of her chilly conjury; she even dons the same blue dress and plaited hairstyle as Elsa. I’d call it a shameless attempt to appeal to Frozen’s audience, but that would be an understatement. The film wears its Frozen mimicry on its sleeve like a badge it is proud of, rather than as a stamp it should be ashamed of. Undoubtedly, the young fans of Frozen are going to be mesmerised by this live action take on one of their favourite fairy tales, but those who don’t own an Elsa princess outfit are going to be less than impressed.
Unless you’re easily enticed by an exquisite exterior, you will find little to enjoy this hollow shell of beauty that is far colder than it should be.
EXTRAS: There are two versions of the movie to watch - Theatrical and Extended. The bonus material consists of an audio commentary with director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan; four Deleted Scenes, with an optional commentary by Nicolas-Troyan (8:57); the five-part featurette Winter's Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman Winter's War (36:20); and a Gag Reel (9:44).