I’m “biast” (con): wasn’t crazy about the first film
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s a prequel and a sequel! It’s full of girl powerrr and reflexive lady-hating! It’s a parody mashup of Lord of the Rings with Frozen and it’s a longform conceptual fashion shoot! The Huntsman: Winter’s War is all these things, and more, and sometimes less. It’s a story about the horror of child soldiers without the horror. It’s a love-conquers-all story with almost no genuine emotional content at all. It’s a comedy without any actual humor. It’s a movie in which, at the finale, the endlessly nonsensical narrator will sum up his word salad with “Some fairy tales do come true,” and we have no idea what the hell he could be referring to.
There also isn’t much in the way of anything that could be characterized as a “Winter’s War” here.
The best thing about 2012’s not-very-good Snow White and the Huntsman was Charlize Theron’s (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Million Ways to Die in the West) evil queen Ravenna. Not even her so much as the suggestion of her backstory, which was hinted at as being rather tragic and moving and, boy, if only we knew what had made her so nasty, we might be quite sympathetic to her. So when the trailers for Huntsman informed us that we were in for “the story before Snow White,” I figured that would at least involve a smidge of Ravenna’s coming-of-witch. But it doesn’t. (It’s rarely a good idea to watch trailers. The ones for this movie are simultaneously hugely misleading and way too revealing, spoiling a thing that the film does not reveal until close to the end. At least this is consistent with the movie’s ethos of being all sorts of opposites all at once.)
Ravenna is already evil as Winter’s War opens, and then she isn’t much in the rest of the film anyway, except for one big showdown sequence with her sorcerous ice-queen sister Freya (Emily Blunt: Sicario, Edge of Tomorrow) that calls to mind a fancy fantasy perfume advertisement. This is mostly the tale of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth: In the Heart of the Sea, Vacation) — which, to be fair, is what the title suggests — and mostly it takes place after the events of Snow White… and even ultimately negates much of what we learned in that film, which will surely piss off whatever trufans the first movie has. The Huntsman gets a name here — Eric — because it turns out there are lots of Huntsmen: they are Freya’s army, children stolen from the subjects in her far-northern realm and turned into warriors. This is how she mourns the baby she lost, because, really, what other option does she have? (The narrator, who sounds an awful lot like Liam Neeson, informs us that “if she could not raise a child, she would raise an army,” which perhaps sounds good on paper — though I doubt it — but is absolutely absurd when spoken.) Also Freya is magic and can make things frosty just by touching them and lives in an ice castle; the cold never bothered her anyway. Eric was one of Freya’s child soldiers — he turned out remarkably well adjusted for having been stolen from his family and trained to kill from a young age and hey, wait a minute, that isn’t even anywhere near what huntsman means–
It’s really not worth getting worked up about that, because very little of this movie makes sense on even the most basic level, and — again with the opposites — the most lucid bits are the ones we don’t even see. Like how Snow White accidentally discovers in an upsetting way that Ravenna’s magic mirror is, like, totally the One Ring to Rule Them All or something. We don’t witness this, of course, because Kristen Stewart has not returned for this movie, and it has to dance around her absence. So someone just tells us about this unpleasant event. (But it was really bad, promise. You would have loved how scary it was, seriously.) Freya wants the mirror, and Eric — who, we see, had escaped from Freya’s clutches before the events of the first movie — is determined to stop her from getting it, because “whoever gets the mirror will be unstoppable” even though this is clearly not the case. (Ravenna had it and she wasn’t unstoppable.) He and another escaped Huntsman, Sara (Jessica Chastain: Crimson Peak, The Martian), will find the mirror and take it to somewhere called Sanctuary, because it’ll be safe there. Where or what is Sanctuary? Is it like Rivendell? We have no idea.
*deep breath* Let it go. *exhale*
This is, I suppose, what happens when you let the guy who wrote The Rock’s Hercules (Evan Spiliotopoulos) and the guy who wrote The Hangover Part III and Identity Thief (Craig Mazin) collaborate on a script. You get fantasy action stuff that is allegedly light and breezy but just feels like outtakes from The Princess Bride that make you go, Yeah, it was right that they cut that… or, worse, it feels stuff rejected from the Hobbit gag reel, like every single moment with the dwarves played by Nick Frost (Unfinished Business, Doctor Who) and Rob Brydon (Cinderella, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) who invite themselves along on Eric’s quest for reasons that make no sense and add absolutely nothing to the story. You get an endless supply of “jokes” that, strangely, almost feel calculated to not be funny, like all the to-do about how ugly dwarf women are when actually they turn out to be quite cute (as played by Sheridan Smith [Quartet, Hysteria] and Alexandra Roach [Testament of Youth, Cuban Fury]), though they also are entirely superfluous. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan seems to have no idea what to do with his amazing cast, and somehow managed — among other crimes — to stage Hemsworth and Chastain’s exchanges of banter in the most awkward ways possible. But this is what happens when you hand the keys to a $100 million-plus blockbuster to someone who has never directed a feature film before (Nicolas-Troyan is a visual-effects artist).