It’s hard to say exactly whom Huntsman: Winter’s War is for. Certainly fans of its predecessor Snow White and The Huntsman (2012) will be interested. But if that film (which was a moderate hit) has a large, enthusiastic following they have been flying under the radar. The film combines PG-13-level violence and sexuality with a level of sophistication in storytelling and characterization that is more appropriate for the elementary school crowd. Which adds up to film that will, undoubtedly, entertain kids of a certain, undiscerning age, but will not set their hearts and imaginations afire.
The film opens with a long prologue, set before the events of Snow White and The Huntsman, which explains how Eric (Hemsworth), the titular Huntsman, came to be: kidnapped as a child and pressed into military service for Freya (Emily Blunt) the evil queen sister to evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) of the first film. Freya, who became evil after a traumatic incident robbed her of her husband and lover, has one very serious rule: “no love”. Which becomes a problem when Eric falls in love with his fellow soldier, Sara (Jessica Chastain). Soon the star-crossed lovers have been forcefully separated, leading to the events of Snow White, and the film picks up again seven years later, once Freya’s agents have stolen the magic mirror that was once Ravenna’s. After some perfunctory exposition, Eric, along with one of the first film’s seven dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost) and said dwarf’s brother Gryff (Rob Brydon), is off to recapture the mirror. Possession of the mirror would, for some reason, grant Freya the power to conquer the kingdom once held by her sister.
It is hard to care about Huntsman: Winter’s War , largely because, while watching it, one gets the sense that nobody involved with the film’s production cared much about it. The only theme running through the film is a half-assed “love conquers all” motif. The characterization is remarkably simplistic, with character’s switching allegiances whenever it is convenient to the narrative, without moral struggle. The plot moves forward ploddingly, never building momentum. The “comic relief”, provided mostly by Frost and Brydon, is somewhat endearing but rarely amusing. $115 million was budgeted for the film, which would be significant for many films but is fairly modest for a fantasy epic, which shows in the hit-or-miss CGI and lack of extras (Freya’s world-conquering army appears to be somewhere between 50 and 100 guys). It seems as though no one involved with the production cared enough to invest money or effort, and simply hoped audiences would be drawn in by the nominal franchise recognition, and the presence of three of the best actresses working today (Blunt, Theron, and Chastain) and one of the most handsome actors (Hemsworth). The performances are similarly uninterested, with only Blunt, who gets less screen-time that she should, imbuing her character with any soul.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is not good. It is also not so bad as to be humorous or offensive. In short, it is a dull affair. One wishes that Blunt, Theron, and Chastain, and maybe even Hemsworth, who is, as ever, charming enough without being particularly interesting, could have been brought together for more deserving film. It is a rare film in that one comes away from it without having much to reference, there is so little of note in the film. The Huntsman is destined to a film that time forgot, and why not? There’s nothing there to remember.
Frank Anderson is the head movie writer at The Renaissance Fan.