No White and the Huntsman this time around. Instead Winter’s War opens up the world with varying degrees of success. Em Breen reviews…
A life lived as the sibling of an evil queen is a demanding and thankless gig. All that ego stroking, enforcing and victim sourcing leaves one with scarce time to fine tune the old interpersonal skills. And blood spatter plays merry havoc with one’s complexion. As Queen Ravenna’s brother Finn could attest. Were he not so very, very dead. In 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman left us in little doubt that introducing this ambitious and youth obsessed beauty into your family could prove fatal.
It is convenient then that a sparkly new sibling has been excavated for The Huntsman: Winter’s War. A Snow White-shunning companion piece to its predecessor. Drawing heavily on the influence of Frozen, Freya (Emily Blunt) shares Elsa’s wardrobe and Anna’s optimism. Entrusting her heart and happiness to an unsuitable man. Trusting that true love will find a way. The hand that rocks the cradle may be the hand that rules the world but Freya is quite content to let her sister lay claim to the globe alone.
The bond of sisterhood brings out a softer side to Snow’s killer stepmom. When Freya’s happily ever after turns sour, rather than draining her life force to keep her own fair face dewy fresh Ravenna (Charlize Theron) offers a handy life hack: When life gives you lemons…smash them to smithereens and grind their juice-bleeding carcasses into the eyeballs of your enemies as you roar in fury. She would likely have embroidered it onto a scatter cushion too if her pointy thumb jewellery weren’t so prone to snagging on silk.
Betrayal sure can change a girl. In an unprecedented manoeuvre Freya flees to a remote mountaintop where she conjures an ice palace from the imposing rock face and sings a stirring ballad which mutates into an ear worm which takes over the world founds a malevolent unisex Mallory Towers. Her aim: to turn children into warriors and young hearts to stone. Driving home her message – that love conquers nothing – by starting a series of stroppy wars that are a fantasy equivalent of The Wedding Singer belting out Love Stinks.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is no sequel, acting rather as prologue and epilogue to Snow White and the Huntsman by providing a history for Eric (Chris Hemsworth) together with his onward journey. This curious decision requires a recall of the first film as ambitious as its villain. The brief recap offered stirring distant memories rather than bringing the salient facts rushing back. Regardless, a twist in the dead wife tale introduces Sara (Jessica Chastain) and the bond which led them both to break Queen Freya’s cardinal rule.
Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan has also broken a cardinal rule, by forgetting that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Though plans for a true sequel notoriously fell apart, his charismatic cast deserved better than this lopsided production. Four dwarves now provide ‘light relief’ with Nion (Nick Frost) joined by new ally Gryff (Rob Brydon), sweet Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and potty mouthed, man-dwarf hating, Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith). Each is mildly entertaining and all are wildly out of place.
By contrast Jessica Chastain offers feisty warrior princess value. Kicking arse and taking names, doggedly settling scores with her long lost hubby way past the point that their misunderstanding is untangled. In another, better, incarnation of this film she, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron would be remarkable. It is still (sadly) worthy of note to have three dominant female leads in a family feature. Here they are squandered – undermined by Winter’s War’s Maleficent/Frozen identity crisis and the absence of Snow White…
It matters that Snow White is not in the Huntsman’s story because she is so conspicuous by her absence. The LOTR mission the Huntsman and his companions are sent on by writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin is to retrieve the magic mirror, for pity’s sake. We see the back of Snow’s head. And her husband appears on screen to speak on her behalf. This not only undermines the whole ‘girl power’ message, it is also INFURIATING. How much worse would it have been to simply recast? Or bribe Ms. Stewart to appear?
Contrary to appearances (and some of the CGI is wince-worthy, unfortunate in light of Mr. Nicolas-Troyan’s visual effects supervision on the first film) there is a solid fairytale movie here. One which ought to have been edited for a younger audience for whom the slapstick humour, gentler scares and classic good/evil seesaw would be sufficient. As it stands, Winter’s War ingeniously embellishes the Huntsman’s backstory and entertainingly mixes intense action with humour. Its wonky pacing is offset by a gratifyingly strong female lead in Jessica Chastain and by the fun Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt so clearly had!