Title: The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Release Date: April 22nd, 2016
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Release Format: Theatrical
Hollywood, more specifically blockbuster filmmaking, is usually set on either discovering or capitalizing on the latest trends. One of the most important markets is the one for teenagers, which suffered a loss as The Hunger Games series finally came to its conclusion. With the dystopian genre pretty much over (You can thank The Divergent series for that,) everyone is looking to discover the next big genre that will draw people to the box offices. Enter The Huntsman: Winter’s War, an attempt to build a dark universe around Snow White that includes deception, murder, war, child slaves, and romance. I can only speculate that this unneeded follow-up to the slightly less atrocious Snow White and The Huntsman is due to the surprising success and reception of Maleficent. While that movie was probably one of the darkest movies Disney has made out of their animated properties,The Huntsman: Winter’s War feels like it’s wavering between being family friendly and wanting to tell a more mature and complex story. What comes of this is a bland, generic fantasy movie that feels robbed of anything truly unique or interesting.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is both a prequel and sequel to the previous Snow White movie, that both offers a brief backstory about The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) himself and what happens after the events of the aforementioned previous film in this “franchise.” See it turns out that evil queen Revenna (Charlize Theron) has a younger sister who repressed her powers until a big emotional, personal disaster helps her release those abilities. Said younger sister is Freya (Emily Blunt,) has the ability to control/form ice and is set on conquering the north by capturing the children in each village to raise them as soldiers. This is an interesting topic as the concept of child soldiers is a very real and dangerous practice still going on in the world today, which opens up The Huntsman: Winter’s War with the chance to discuss this topic in a fantasy based setting. Except the film basically ignores this opportunity, dismissingly waving it’s hand at the idea as it has to continue talking about the pointless fetch quest for the mirror The Huntsman is on. Oh ya, the mirrors back, but it pretty much acts as a McGuffin to get the characters from set piece to set piece.
There’s a love story going on as well because this is Disney so, of course, there has to be a love story, between the child soldiers, turned actual soldiers, turned attempted runaways The Huntsman and Sara (Jessica Chastain.) See the only real rule in Freya’s kingdom is no one can love, which once again doesn’t make for a bad concept as a whole. This idea has some interesting possibilities that could explore the dimensions of love and what it means to express these emotions. Huntsman decides to go the single most cliche route with the overly familiar “love conquers all” motif and sticks o it quite firmly. Look I don’t have a problem with the concept of love conquers all, but at this point, this idea has been done to death in every type of medium you can imagine. It’s begging for fresh blood and a new twist which Huntsman just doesn’t deliver at all. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as noticeable if this wasn’t the only theme running through the entire movie, as it fails to even attempt a mature discussion about anything else.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the world building, while impressive, is incredibly by the books. There are some interesting locations, mainly in the icy, nordic-inspired region that Freya rules, but we barely explore this place outside of one castle. Everything else populating this world, including goblins, feels like a retread of every fantasy book/movie/video game you’ve ever seen. It’s fantasy by numbers and it only highlights how lazily slapped together this film feels. Yes, most of the action set pieces are generally entertaining, with a special note to the final battle involving pretty much everyone except Snow White. However, the action is not enough to sustain this film for it’s nearly two-hour run time. This is only more frustrating as interesting ideas such as the mirror’s ability to pretty much turn anyone into a rabid killer is brought up twice, but never in meaningful ways. When it finally looks like the film is going to let us see first hand the power of the mirror, it 180’s and never brings it up again.
Thankfully, the acting from the entire cast is great with the exception of Chastain, who gives a wooden, flat performance. While this is to be expected from the character of Freya, since she literally lacks the ability to express her emotion for the majority of the film, Sara just comes off as a bland and uninteresting. Hemsworth picks up her slack, but the duo has almost no on screen chemistry at all making their love very hard to believe. Theron, for the 20 minutes or so she’s in this, delivers a solid performance as Ravenna. Though it’s a major disappointment given she has so little screen time and only seems to pop up for the convenience of the plot. Which is a shame since both Theron and Blunt work well together and compliment each other’s acting.
I’m sure the standout for most people will be the four dwarves as they serve as the comedic relief for the entirety of The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Nick Frost is, of course, the standout among the others as his comedic timing is perfect. That’s not to say the other three, (Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach) aren’t funny. The problem is once you figure out the direction the plot is going for all the character’s involved, it makes it pretty easy to discern what’s going to happen, the dwarves various personalities, and how they will interact with each other. Though this is more the writings fault and not the performance of the four actors, as they commit fully to their characters.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is the worst kind of fantasy movie as it lacks any fresh ideas or concepts to keep the story going. The lack of depth for the majority of characters and the entire narrative structure makes the film bland and exceptionally uninteresting. If it wasn’t for some of the great performances from the various cast members this would be one of the worst films of 2016. Can we just put the mirror in the basement and forget about it now?
- Acting: Generally the only good thing about Huntsman was the cast’s performances, except Chastain who looks bored beyond reason.
- Cinematography: While the actual effects look great most of the time, it’s sad to see that the camera/editing has no interesting flourishes or touches.
- Story: Lazily was written and very generic. If you are at all a fan of fantasy you will predict the plot points from a mile away.
- Characters: With the exception of the four dwarfs and maybe Theron’s Ravenna, everyone is else is exceptionally uninspired and boring.
- Theron/Blunt Performances
- Frost's Dwarf
- Sara is Bland
- Boring/Formulaic Story
- Lazily Written
- Predictable Direction
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.