It often seems these days that Hollywood, either incapable or just unwilling to present any original content, is satisfied to churn out sequel after sequel, cashing in on what audiences have been served and eaten up in the past rather putting anything new on the menu. Granted, through a business perspective it’s hard to really blame anyone involved in this recycling process. Why fix a cash machine that’s not broken? But through the eyes of a film fan and moviegoer most times it’s difficult to do anything but curse the industry’s name while shaking an angry fist. However, in a somewhat strange variation to the norm, this Friday won’t see the next iteration of a caped crusader storming the screen (we’ll leave that for the summer) or the release of the next chapter threatening to add a bad taste to a classic franchise we love in the form of something along the lines of a Die Hard 32. No, this Friday will mark the release of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the follow up to the 2012 fantasy Snow White and the Huntsman, this time directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan the visual effects supervisor of the first film for which he was nominated for an academy award. You’d be correct in wondering why exactly Snow White and the Huntsman is the next up on the sequel slate as it was lukewarm, at best, critically and has not, at least to my knowledge, gained any sort of cult following in the four years that have followed it’s release. Well, the answer is simple. The first was successful in turning a profit so why not try it again. What’s that you say, Kristin Stewart who played the titular character won’t be returning this time. No matter, they’ve dropped Snow White’s name from the title and chose to focus solely on the Huntsman this time. However, despite all this I will praise the film for assembling quite a worthy cast. Chris Hemsworth is back reprising his role as the Huntsman, this time one of many who bear the title, as is Charlize Theron showing us once again that she can pull of being an outstanding villain through her portrayal of Ravenna the evil queen. In addition, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt (who are, I’ll confess, two of my absolute favorite actresses working today) have also joined the fray.
Without spoiling anything the first thing I’ll mention is that contrary to what many might believe, this included myself upon going into the film, is that The Huntsman: Winter’s War is not in fact a prequel to the original, at least for the most part. The film’s first act, in what feels more like a prologue, does take place before the events of the first film. Here we learn that Ravenna the evil queen has a sister Freya (Emily Blunt) who, after being betrayed by the man she loves and losing her child, becomes just as evil as her sister and gains the ability to conjure up and manipulate snow and ice serving as a visual metaphor to her loveless ice cold heart. Now a villain herself, Freya forms her own kingdom taking in the children she has orphaned through the sacking of villages by her army and has them trained to become huntsmen, ruthless killers that serve her in her campaign to destroy all other kingdoms. Freya has but one rule for her soldiers to follow, all must purge love from their life and remain as cold as herself. However, despite this directive her two best huntsmen, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), can’t help but fall in love which leads them to try and escape Freya’s castle and her evil rule. The two are thwarted in the effort though, and Eric is thrown into a river and left for dead thinking that Sara has been killed in the flee attempt. The film then jumps to seven years latter, now chronologically taking place after the first. Eric is told that the infamous mirror (of the “mirror mirror on the wall” fame) has gone missing and that he is the only one who can retrieve it. What’s more, he must find the mirror before Freya does or the consequences will be devastating. After setting out on his journey, to his disbelief, he comes across Sara who through a magic spell cast by Freya believes that he had abandoned her during their breakout attempt (the same spell made it appear to Eric that Sara had died) and has consequently come to hate him ever since. She does however agree to go along on his quest, spurred by her mutual hatred for Freya. Now Eric must not only race to retrieve the mirror but convince Sara that she has fallen victim to a magical rouse and try to rekindle their love. This becomes the main plot thread, of many, used to communicate the film’s theme that true love conquers all.
I’ll be honest when I say that I wasn’t the most excited for The Huntsman: Winter’s War going in. Truth be told I thought the first was a bit of a mess (if that hasn’t already been made clear). However, to my surprise I did find myself pleasantly amused by the movie. Whereas the first film had trouble finding the story it wanted to tell, this one had a clear cut premise and well defined character goals, making it a much more cohesive piece. I felt that I got to know the characters better this time around and that their journey (and the story) had a purpose to it. Around the board everyone was on their game with newcomers Blunt and Chastain giving characteristically sound performances. Hemsworth, although not really given the chance to inject any real depth into Eric, is as charming and charismatic as ever. As for Theron, often times I will judge the quality of a movie’s villain based on how much I come to viscerally hate the character, with higher kudos being given to the performance the more I despise them on an emotional level. To Theron’s credit she has once again succeeded in portraying Ravenna as a truly detestable and frightening villain, one that I thoroughly hated in the best way possible. Although, perhaps the highlight of the film for me was the comedic performances turned in by all the dwarves who were played by Rob Bryden, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach and Nick Frost who is, in my opinion, one of, if not the, funniest men in movies these days but unfortunately criminally underused in both the films of Hollywood and those of his home country of Britain.
So where do I stand on The Huntsman: Winter’s War? Perhaps my low expectations left the potential for my reaction nowhere to go but up or maybe I’m just too much of a sucker for Chastain, Blunt and Frost (I promise you I haven’t laced this article with hyperbole, these really are some of my favorites working in the industry) but despite all my trepidations and worries going in I did have a fun time. That’s not to say it was a great film, not by a stretch. At times it felt as though the movie was trying to beat the theme that love conquers all into my head with a mallet. Though at the same time, despite all the film’s violence and innuendos, it is based on a fairy tale for children after all and so I was able to forgive much of the heavy handed writing. If you want a light hearted fantasy or are merely intrigued by the idea of a Snow White extended universe, no matter how ridiculous that might sound, this could be a film for you.
Watch the trailer for The Huntsman: Winter’s War below
Universal Pictures Canada releases The Huntsman: Winter’s War on Friday, April 22, 2016