The sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, initially seems like a step in the right direction. Considering the cast is reason for enthusiasm, as this 2016 movie puts Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain under the same roof.
Alas, there’s only so much great performers can do with careless material. The screenplay by Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos is standard genre fare and Nicolas-Troyan, who was a second unit director on Maleficent, doesn’t elevate things beyond the mire.
The movie begins before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, with Queen Ravenna (Theron) discovering that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is expecting a child. She handles the situation. Freya closes herself off in an ice palace and amasses an army of children. She trains them not to love and calls them Huntsmen.
When Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain) break the rules and fall in love, Freya is not impressed. She separates the two and Eric believes his lover is dead. Years later, the Huntsman is sent on a quest to track down the Magic Mirror for Snow White. Freya and Queen Ravenna are involved somehow and the plot twists and turns on its way to resolution.
While Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman was a dull affair empty of human emotion, The Huntsman: Winter’s War has signs of life. Hemsworth seems freer in the role of the Huntsman and delivers one-liners with aplomb. His looseness keeps the picture from sinking into the mud like its predecessor.
Chastain makes for a decent if underwhelming love interest. She resembles Merida from Brave, right down to her flawless bow and arrow, and her brogue is coarse and muddy in all the weirdest ways. She plays well against Hemsworth, even if their romance is a cliché-ridden minefield.
The cornerstone of The Huntsman: Winter’s War is the sweltering sisterhood of Freya and Ravenna. Blunt and Theron bring more fire and ice than the film deserves and they put on a camp clinic. They stop short of sending up the material (maybe), which makes them ideal fairy tale queens.
Theron’s elegant seductiveness is particularly compelling, especially as she slinks around her sister and seems to have Freya under her spell. She morphs into gold, glides across the floor, obsesses over her vanity, and steals the show.
The real indignity is that Nicolas-Troyan can’t make more of the talent. He deserves credit for achieving a Grimm feel, but cinematographer Phedon Papamichael doesn’t take many chances. The action scenes suffer from insipid choreography and an abundance of slow-motion, while the CGI doesn’t meld well.
And the ideas of The Huntsman: Winter’s War can hardly even be called ideas. There are lame declarations about love conquering all and the characters hammer the point home at every opportunity. The ice metaphor is plain as day, with Freya’s imposed exile just an icicle away from a raucous rendition of “Let It Go.”
So while the actors do what they can to lighten the load, there’s too much junk to sift through. Without the benefit of decent effects or a storyline that matters or a camera that breathes life into hollow scenes, The Huntsman: Winter’s War wastes its talent and pops out yet another woman-scorned-by-lost-love scenario. What a shame.