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Film Review: Is The Huntsman: Winter’s War Really That Bad?

Posted on the 28 April 2016 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

As The Huntsman: Winter’s War nears its climactic battle (eh, more like an isolated skirmish), Chris Hemsworth’s title character makes a harrowing leap off the side of a mountain onto a castle compound, slipping from rooftop to rooftop while desperately reaching out for something to grip. Eventually, his axe finds a landing spot on the absolute edge of a roof thus ending his downward descent at the last possible moment. After pulling himself back up and rolling over onto his back to take a momentary breather, he playfully boasts aloud to no one in particular, “This is the worst plan ever!” Then he heartily laughs at his own joke even though his delivery of it wasn’t that great.

It’s swell and all that he’s having such a great time, but since when did he add one-liners to his vocabulary? There is still the little matter of an evil queen to defeat and an entire country to save. Plus, crying out loud like that is hardly the best move when you’re trying to sneak up on an entire castle full of soldiers.

Yet, in a better constructed movie our hero crying out “This is the worst plan ever!” would actually be pretty funny. Here, it falls flat. That’s because The Huntsman is like a film-length version of one seriously prolonged outtake, chock full of scenes in which the actors are clearly enjoying themselves a bit too much. The jokes they tell are rarely funny, the menace they attempt to campily convey is not always successfull and their clear joy is largely unearned. However, just like BirthMoviesDeath, I found it all oddly charming.

For the record, I’ve never seen Snow White and The Huntsman. I know it more for its “female star sleeps with the married director” controversy than its actual merits as a film, though I understood it to be a generally liked, but unloved movie. As such, Winter’s War serves as both a prequel and sequel to a movie I’ve never seen before, yet thanks to Liam Neeson’s storybook narration during the prologue and several well-placed context clues I was never lost nor was I trying to connect the dots from the first movie to the new one.

That’s not to suggest Winter’s War doesn’t have a huge Snow White problem, because it does. For obvious reasons, Kristen Stewart was not asked back, and they opted against re-casting the role. Instead, Snow White, who defeated the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) in the first movie and became the new ruler of the majority of the land. She is glimpsed one time from afar with her face obstructed as she pounds her hands against the evil mirror which has driven her insane. We are told that she ordered the mirror to be sent away and delivered to some kind of magical sanctuary.

That sets into motion a MacGuffin-driven plot positioning the mirror as a Lord of the Rings-esque power ring corrupting all who come into contact with it. Snow White’s former ally, Erik the Huntsman (Hemsworth), is off living a quiet life in some isolated cabin, but he’s quickly recruited to help track the mirror to prevent it from falling into the hands of Ravenna’s sister Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), who rules the north from her ice castle.

Emily Blunt & Charlize Theron Are So Fierce in New 'Huntsman' Images! MORE: Emily Blunt & Charlize Theron Are So Fierce in New ‘Huntsman’ Images! | Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain : Just Jared | http://www.justjared.com/2016/01/06/emily-blunt-charlize-theron-are-so-fierce-in-new-huntsman-images/?trackback=tsmclip Visit:Just Jared | Twitter | Facebook

Freya is what Elsa in Frozen would be like if her sister Anna also had magical powers and was an evil, corruptive influence on her.

The problem is that once this particular MacGuffin falls into the wrong hands the plot turns into the build-up to a war against Snow White’s kingdom, yet she is nowhere to be found. In fact, there is no real sense of her kindgom whatsoever, other than a basic “her part of the world is green and beautiful while Freya’s is white, snow-covered and terrible.” Any threats made against Snow White’s life are undercut by our knowledge that there was no way they were going to let Kristen Stewart anywhere near this movie. So it’s like the villains are mounting a war against an unseen sitcom character, e.g., Norm’s wife on Cheers, Maris on Frasier, Wolowitz’ mom on The Big Bang Theory, except at least Wolowitz’ mom got to talk, albeit as a disembodied voice.

However, when Winter’s War is less about its titular war and more about the origin story of an evil queen and the fractured love affair between Erik and Sara (Jessica Chastain), his not-so-dead wife, it’s actually doling out perfectly competent, if largely derivative fantasy movie material (they’re stealing from Lord of the Rings, Frozen, Brave, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, etc.).

In the prologue, we learn Freya was once the more optimistic and caring yin to Ravenna’s yang, but when tragedy struck (and at the hands of the man she loved, no less) her powers emerged and her heart grew cold. While her sister ruled over her own kingdom, Freya traveled north and conquered king after king, stealing children from parents and training them to be her special task force known as The Huntsmen. They were to serve her bravely and honor her one rule: no falling in love. Such a thing is forbidden in her land.

The movie is essentially a fantasy version of Footloose. There, a town outlawed dancing. Here, a queen outlaws love. You roughly know where this is heading, although by the end no one’s going to slide into an auditorium and yell, “Let’s love” ala Kevin Bacon and his “Let’s dance!” proclamation (yelling “let’s love” like that would seemingly be something you’d hear at the start of an orgy).


“Let’s get it on…”

As they grow up together, Erik and Sara just can’t stop themselves from breaking Freya’s rule. They fall deeply and passionately in love. For her, maybe it was the fact that Erik was nice that one time to a scared little girl who was newly stolen from her parents and forced into Freya’s service. Plus, he looks like Chris Hemsworth. That doesn’t hurt. For Erik, maybe he just dug the obvious impression Sara was doing of Merida from Brave, and he found her Scottish accent endearing, particularly how it seemed to come and go without explanation. Either way, they were to run away together, but Freya stopped them, using her powers to separate and trick them. Reunited later in life during his quest for the mirror, their memory of their separation massively differs, and their love won’t be so easily rekindled.

Along the way, they’re joined by dwarves (all played with surprisingly limited effectiveness by talented British comedians/comedic actors), battle oddly monkey-like goblins, and generally bicker, flashing the smiles of two people still in love but also of two actors who are in this to have fun. In fact, when recently interviewed on The Nerdist that’s exactly what Jessica Chastain said led her to this role. After a series of intense performances playing deeply troubled women, she was in desperate need of a palette cleanser, and ended up having the most fun time on Winter’s War than any movie she’s ever made before.

That level of fun is obvious throughout the film, and the entire cast seems painfully aware that this isn’t exactly Shakespeare they’re working with. As Emily Blunt joked (much to Theron’s comic objections) on James Corden, the majority of her job on this movie was letting her costumes do the acting. At one point, Freya is seen marching into battle on the back of a completely CGI, giant white beast which looks like a wild boar mixed with a polar bear. You know it’s fake, and you know Blunt’s costume meant she could barely move. However, that doesn’t mean the actors aren’t able to carry the emotions of the story, however predictable and rudimentary they might be. Some are just better at it than others. Blunt, for example, is a far more compelling presence than Theron’s “sing it to the cheap seats” camp-fest.

First-time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was the visual effects supervisor on Snow White and The Huntsman, at times emphasizes the visuals over the story even though the various fantasy elements at play are undisciplined and sometimes incompatible. While he can paint a lovely tableau, when he puts his chess pieces into action the fight scenes tend to blur. Moreover, the out-of-control accents coming out of Hemsworth (whose Erik is seemingly simultaneously Scottish/Australian) and Chastain called for obvious ADR work which went undone (or at least was not done effectively). Troyan also clearly loses track of the various spinning plates he has up in the air during the climax, which is bad since, by blockbuster standards, the plot offers few spinning plates to worry about. At one point, everyone appears to suddenly just turn on everyone else for no solid reason

At the end of the day, though, this is a simple story about a love-less land and a group of actors taking a paycheck gig but making the most of it. It is so well-meaning in its badness and lack of originality while also surprisingly well-done in other areas that I couldn’t help but be charmed by all of it.

When Winter’s War is less about its titular war and more about the origin story of an evil queen and the fractured love affair between Erik and Sara, his not-so-dead wife, it’s actually doling out perfectly competent, if largely derivative fantasy movie material. At this point, it’s already a box office bomb, but it should go down as the type of flawed fantasy movie people will watch years from now and conclude, “It’s really not that bad.” Not that RottenTomatoes agrees with me….


17% – “The Huntsman: Winter’s War is visually arresting and boasts a stellar cast, but neither are enough to recommend this entirely unnecessary sequel.”

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