The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a follow-up to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. And that’s honestly about as apt a description as I can muster for this film: It just is. Its predecessor didn’t particularly stoke any conflagrations, either commercially or critically, so walking into this film you might be wondering what warrants a second go-round in this revisionist take on the classic fairytale. And walking out of this film, you will more than likely be wondering the same thing. Probably while failing to stifle a jaw-distending yawn.
On paper this pre/sequel made all the right moves: Relegating its dour former lead Kristen Stewart to nothing but offscreen references here, and instead focusing on Chris Hemsworth’s macho man Huntsman Eric. The Thor star was the perfect fit to swing around some heavy metal at costumed goons in the first film, so keeping him on was a no-brainer. Also brought back is Charlize Theron, whose gleefully evil take on the sorceress Ravenna was easily the first film’s highlight. And Hemsworth and Theron are bolstered on the casting front this time around by some powerful thespian backup in the form of Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.
The story traces events both before and after Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s Blunt’s story that forms the main narrative impetus here. She plays Freya, the ice sorceress responsible for the eponymous winter, and also pushed-around little sister of Theron’s Ravenna. When a betrayal costs her the love of her life as well as her child, Freya does a eerily accurate Elsa from Frozen impersonation as her frigid magical abilities manifest themselves. Taking to the North while her sister conquers the South, the heartbroken/vengeful Freya establishes a kingdom of her own, claiming all the surrounding lands thanks to her prodigious icy sorcery and army of Huntsmen. These men and women were captured as children and raised as hardened warriors by Freya, taught that love is a weakness that needs to be stamped out without exemption. But as luck would have it, her two finest Huntsmen, Eric and Sara (Chastain), actually end up breaking this sacred vow, earning Freya’s cold-hearted enmity for their romance. Cue drama!
Except there isn’t much drama. There’s not much of anything, to be honest, other than the type of creatively arid blandness that can only be borne of corporate mandate. It’s not so much that VFX-artist-turned-first-time-director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s efforts fall flat on their face, but rather that everything plays out so excruciatingly, boringly average that it would barely register if anybody did actually faceplant dramatically. Even the visuals lack any memorable pizzazz – they’re certainly impressive from a purely technically polished, polygon-count perspective, but you would think that a filmmaker who started as visual effects guy would actually show off more than just a modicum of eye-catching original design (the gold-obsessed goblins are about the only thing that stand out in this menagerie of seen-it-before fantasy trope backdrops).
Hemsworth and (especially) Chastain handle the high fantasy fisticuffs well enough, but they’re essentially nothing but blank-faced cyphers with weapons in their hands. As a consequence their relationship is about as believable as their grating Irish accents (for which there is no explanation given, by the way). And while Theron once again has some lip-smacking fun with her role as Ravenna, her screen time is irritatingly brief, adding more to a feeling of a disjointed and hackneyed script than anything else. That’s when the script is not just signposting its way to painfully obvious conclusions, that is. Meanwhile Blunt does what she can – she certainly knows how to pull off a proper haughty ice queen – but there’s just not enough theatrical meat to sink her teeth into here, even though her character is actually by far the most complex of the lot.
The occasional comic relief gets offered in the form of Eric’s dwarven travelling companions, played by Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach, although for the most part their gags don’t really ascend to any memorable heights at all (dwarf pun fully intended). At least Smith, as one of the newly introduced lady dwarves, gives a feisty performance, imbuing her character with… well, character. Pity the rest couldn’t follow suit.
All in all, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is one of those movies which ticks all the prerequisite genre boxes and is certainly inoffensive in its offerings, but is so tortuously blah that it makes it even worse. It’s the very definition of middle-of-the-road journeyman filmmaking, offering very little in the way of diverting entertainment other than a couple of bright moments from its criminally underused cast. Watch this when there’s really no alternative, otherwise I would recommend staying on the hunt for something better.
Last Updated: April 20, 2016