The Huntsman: Winter’s War is both a prequel and a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. The fact that it manages to be both is, unfortunately, the most innovative thing about this very pedestrian film. Kristen Stewart is nowhere to be seen here, but Chris Hemsworth (Eric, the titular huntsman), Charlize Theron (Queen Ravenna), and Nick Frost (the dwarf Nion) all reprise their roles from the original, and Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain add their names to the cast list as Queen Freya and Sara, respectively.
The story behind The Huntsman: Winter’s War, is that Queen Ravenna from the original film had a sister named Freya who came into sorcerous powers and, because of them, a kingdom of her own due to a tragedy. Just like her sister she rules as a tyrant and raises a small well trained army, of which Eric and Sara are a part. The plot from there revolves around their attempts to bring down Freya from her throne just as Ravenna was brought down in Snow White and the Huntsman. The story knows only that it wants to be fantasy, but beyond that it has no idea whether it wants to be a war epic, a fairy tale, or a hero’s journey, but it manages to remain cliched no matter which style it stumbles through on its way to its climax.
The dialogue in the film is used as a bludgeon, always telling you exactly what you should be thinking and feeling, describing things that the characters already intimately know, and describing things that are right in front of your face. The word subtle is not in the vocabulary of writers Spillotopolous and Mazin, and I say that both cheekily and literally since from what I can gather of their writing, a great many words aren’t in their vocabulary.
The visuals of the film are competent and at times interesting. The frost magic and fight scenes fall into the same trap of complete cliche as the writing of the film, but at least they look pretty and don’t fall into the “quick editing so you can’t tell what’s really going on” trap too often used by less talented directors. The scenery is usually more proficiently handled, and when trying for a fairy tale aesthetic can actually be quite beautiful and interesting. Whatever else can be criticized in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the art department as a group have earned themselves a heaping helping of kudos.
Our cast is a mixed bag. Hemsworth and Chastain as our protagonists and lovers are… Well, they sure are good-looking. As much as I want to like Chris Hemsworth because of his connection to Marvel and Joss Whedon and therefore his involvement in some of my favorite films of the last decade, he just is not a good actor, and I fear once his days as Thor are done he will become just a pretty face to throw into bad genre and romance flicks. Chastain is no better as Sara. Both Hemsworth and Chastain give uninspired, dull, and hamfisted performances that do absolutely nothing to elevate the already trite script. Blunt and Theron, on the other hand, are both great in their own way. Theron runs with the script she is given and absolutely gloriously chews the scenery every second she is given screen time, a style that absolutely works with the material given here, and Blunt actually manages to add layers to Queen Freya, adding character elements that are not apparent in the dialogue and making hers the only character in the entire film with any depth whatsoever.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is, in a way, the worst kind of film there is. It’s a film that isn’t handled incompetently enough to be entertaining in a “so bad it’s funny” way, but very little else rises above the level of mediocre cliche. One day when it comes on television, watching Emily Blunt play her role may make it worth leaving on in the background while you’re doing housework, but otherwise, this is a film to avoid.
Rating: 3.4 out of 10