“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” Movie Review

     Another sequel we never really asked for, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” attempts to continue the story established in 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” by ditching the title character.  Rumors of on set drama aside, the decision to leave Kristen Stewart and her Snow White character out of this part prequel - part sequel has to be one of the worst calls made at the studio level in quite some time.  Wouldn’t that be like doing a “Star Wars” film without Luke Skywalker or an “Indiana Jones” film without Indiana Jones?  Especially since the story, written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, refers to Snow White several times in the present as the reigning Queen of the land.  She dispatches her armies to track down the infamous mirror, yet we never see her on screen.  And with all that occurs in this film, wouldn’t it have been prudent for the Queen to be involved?  This and many other issues common with the genre ensures director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s film will at best be remembered as a miscalculated attempt at creating a viable franchise.  At least the producers of “Mirror Mirror” knew it was time to move on.

     As you would expect in a film based on a fairy tale, the entire plot of “Winter’s War” is dependent on a number of convenient coincidences throughout, mainly involving the lead characters who seem to die on screen a lot, only to come back to life ten minutes later with little explanation.  The story begins prior to the events of the first film in which we see the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) wrestling the crown away from her husband and becoming the ruler of the land.  Her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), is seen by her older sibling as weak and inferior, a notion which obviously is taken advantage of by Ravenna when she causes the death of Freya’s newborn child.  Freya’s reaction turns her into the Ice Queen as she takes refuge in the North secluded from the rest of the world now ruled by Ravenna.

     Freya now believes that love is an emotion which always leads to betrayal and because of this, she vows to go to war with anyone who dares question her.  With her army of Huntsman in tow, she traverses the world and kidnaps children who she then has trained in the fighting arts for the purpose of growing up as part of her army.  Two of these children grow up to be Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who would ultimately lead Freya’s army into numerous bloody wars and do so successfully.  Problem is as you might have guessed, Eric and Sara fall in love, which is a no no according to Freya and her Ice Queen ways.  With the familiar voice of Liam Neeson serving as narration, the film plods along as if it were a documentary of the early pre Snow White years until we actually get to the point where the filmmakers are forced to cut to an aerial shot of the forrest below as the narrator tells us the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman” just happened and we now join the sequel in progress.  

     Now banished from the North and having just helps Snow White defeat Ravenna, Eric is told by a group of Snow White’s soldiers that the mirror has been stolen and she fears if it were to end up in Freya’s hands, she would become too powerful to stop.  So Eric decides to go after the mirror on his own and directs Snow White’s army to align them selves toward the North in order to stop any impending attack.  In tow, he reluctantly has with him two dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon),  who function as the obligatory comic relief but not much else.  And this where the journey portion of the film begins where in similar fashion to such hits as “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, the group moves through various roads and magical forests, encountering colorful creatures, some nice and some not, as they venture closer to the mirror’s location.  With Hemsworth and Chastain being afforded the majority of the screen time together, the middle portion of the film plays rather dull and uninteresting, if for no other reason we already know what the end game will be from the film’s trailer.  Certainly Charlize Theron doesn’t top line the promotional materials for her short appearance at the beginning of the film.

     It’s ironic the studio chose to release “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” on the same weekend as the premiere of the sixth season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, since watching both within days of each other will seem like medieval overkill.  It’s also amazing to think about how a cast that includes Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, and Jessica Chastain can be completely outclassed by lesser known actors in a television show.  But that should teach everyone a lesson in the importance of compelling characters who are given the opportunity to push the envelope.  Hemsworth does nothing other than swing an ax and spout off cheesy love lines to Chastain’s character, while Theron seemingly returns only to work on her evil scowl while sporting the kind of gowns and evening wear Derek Zoolander would be proud of.  Blunt gets the task of standing there emotionless and icy, as Chastain tries her best to play the tough girl role but isn’t given anything remotely interesting to do or say other than to brag about her sweet bow staff skills by quipping “I never miss.”  

     Problem is, the entire production is a miss and there was nothing any of these fine actors could do to save it.  The technical side of the film is solid, but just ordinary creatively speaking with the CGI providing nothing of the awe inspiring variety.  After a long career as a visual effects maestro, Nicolas-Troyan made his feature directing debut with this film and in doing so should’ve insisted on one crucial person being on set.  I never thought I’d say this, but this film needed Kristen Stewart.  Bad.  GRADE: D