Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. April 24, 2016
"The Huntsman: Winter's War", the prequel and sequel to 2012's "Snow White and The Huntsman", is one scary fairy tale. But that's not a good thing. What makes this film so terribly frightening is the complete lack of artistic or dramatic competence and the shocking waste of the talent of some interesting actors. Cinematographer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who filmed the first go-round) makes his debut as a director and displays his strengths and weaknesses as a film maker. The images are not surprisingly striking and vivid (thanks to the work of Phedon Papamichael) while the story-telling is choppy and predictable with the unimaginative script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin doing him no favors.
With Kristen Stewart's Snow White out of the picture (largely due to the scandal that erupted over her behind-the-scenes relationship with director Rupert Sanders), that means the focus of this story is on Chris Hemsworth's dull Huntsman and the exceptionally vain and malevolent Queen Ravenna played by Charlize Theron.
We are taken back to the time when a young Ravenna was living with her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt). As the queen is just beginning to embrace dark magic, encouraging her sister to explore it's power, Freya is more interested in love. She has fallen for a handsome duke (Colin Morgan) but after discovering she's with child, her lover cannot marry her as he's been promised to another. Tragedy strikes as the baby is fatally harmed by the Duke and Freya is so overcome with grief and heartbreak that it unleashes her formidable power to control ice.
The bitter Freya takes over a land in the far north of the realm, stripping the area of it's lush, green forest and covering it with layers of icy snow. She begins wiping out villages, taking the children to build an army of ruthless and cold-blooded soldiers. One of the children is Eric, an exceptionally skilled warrior, that will grow-up to become Mr. Hemsworth. Another child who is equally gifted as a conqueror is Sara, played by Jessica Chastain as an adult. Eric and Sara try to resist but they break Freya's strict rule of never falling in love. They decide to leave the kingdom together but the Snow Queen has other plans. Separating them by a clear sheet of solid ice, Eric watches helplessly as Sara is murdered by their fellow soldiers before he's cast away.
Years later after Ravenna has been vanquished by Snow White, the Magic Mirror is being transported to a more secure location when it's stolen. The Huntsman is summoned by King William (Sam Claflin) to track down the mirror. With the unwelcome help of one of Snow White's dwarfs, Nion (Nick Frost) and his brother Gryff (Rob Brydon), they set off to retrieve the powerful looking glass but the frigid Queen Freya is determined to capture it first. This begins an uninspired venture where the Huntsman must do battle with a variety of nasty goblins and Freya's well-trained unit of deadly huntsmen warriors.
"Snow White and The Huntsman" turned the classic Brothers Grimm character in to a contemporary-styled, bad-ass combatant. While it was a box-office success, the film was a woefully convoluted and underwhelming adventure that certainly didn't require a follow-up. Yet here it is and "Winter's War" manages to be even less compelling. The idea to make the Huntsman (a minor player in the original tale) the lead character wasn't necessarily a bad one but Mr. Hemsworth's hero has not been fully expanded, remaining bland and generic. The addition of Ms Chastain as the Huntsman's tough and feisty love interest isn't enough to make him more interesting with this thankless part clearly a waste of time for this fine actress.
The villain tends to be the highlight in many films and that holds true with Ms Theron's Queen Ravenna with her mad desire to be the most beautiful in all the land leads to attempted murder. The Oscar-winner still brings an over-the-top but deliciously evil delight to the role yet her appearance is far too brief here. It's left to the low-key Ms Blunt to fill-in as our wicked queen. However she's more hurt and disillusioned than pure evil, making us feel less scared and more sympathetic to her plight.
"The Huntsman: Winter's War" takes us to a regal looking fantasy world that never properly captures the magical wonder and thrilling adventure of a well-crafted fable. And a bit of advice for Mr. Hemsworth. After a string of very disappointing films, I suggest you put that Thor suit back on pronto before the good-will towards you fades.