Once upon a time, in the year 2012, a film called “Snow White and the Huntsman” was released in a year where the world received two Snow White films–the other was “Mirror, Mirror.” The film earned almost $400 million worldwide and in an ivory tower, executives at Universal Pictures decided to greenlight a sequel. After a bit of complications, production on the film began and almost four years after the release of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” was released.
Despite how well “Snow White and the Huntsman” did at the box office, the release of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” feels like a bit of a surprise. I remember watching the first film on HBO while bored and finding myself bored every time Charlize Theron wasn’t on the screen, chewing scenery. I also remember having a hard time believing Queen Ravenna (Theron) would feel threatened by Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and wishing the movie wasn’t trying so hard to be a Serious, Gritty Reboot.
Thankfully, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”–oof, this might be the clunkiest title for a film not based on a young adult series–has gotten rid of Snow White and a serious demeanor. The film, however, feels more like it should be a direct-to-video release instead of a major motion picture because of the clunky narration (Liam Neeson), poor narrative logic, a message pounded over the audience’s head and a pop song that was just inserted at the end of the movie. Which, no offense to Halsey, but when your first movie has a gloriously epic Florence and the Machine song, you need to have a song that can compete.
The odd thing about “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is it’s incredibly dark and I don’t know how it got a PG-13 rating since there is blood shown in this movie as well as some sideboob. What is also interesting is the film manages to be both a prequel and a sequel to a movie and either way, I don’t think we asked for either.
At the start of “The Huntsman: Insert Caption Here,” we meet Ravenna, who kills a king by putting her finger on a chess piece. That’s right, Ravenna kills a man while playing chess and this happens in the first five minutes. She becomes queen with her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), at her side. Freya is pregnant and after she gives birth to her daughter, she goes to be with her lover. Unfortunately, it appears her daughter was murdered by her lover and this unleashes an ice-based power in her. Freya heads to the north, where everyone there talks like they were raised by Groundskeeper Willie and she becomes queen, raising an army from children her army kidnaps and in the process she outlaws love. Unfortunately, two of her soldiers, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall in love and Freya punishes both of them.
Seven years later, Snow White has vanquished Ravenna and her kingdom is trying to get rid of Ravenna’s mirror. This sends Eric and Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) on a quest to find the mirror and destroy it, even though it seems to have the power to drive non-magic wielding people insane.
Now that I type up the plot, it seems to make less sense, particularly compared to the first film.
At some point, you had to wonder what the Universal executives were thinking when they signed off on this film. I’m sure they were more than okay with Freya essentially being Elsa from “Frozen,” but a sadist and with even more emotional baggage. But this film has some of the clunkiest narrative I’ve ever seen and I voluntarily watched a Disney Channel original movie.
The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are clearly labeled in this film based on their positions on love. The good guys believe love conquers all, while the bad guys believe love makes you weak and ruins you. It oddly feels like the movie should have been released during Valentine’s Day weekend instead of in April because it’s a movie that’s not quite a summer blockbuster. The movie even has a plot around how dwarfs hate each other and implies the very uncomfortable situation as to how dwarfs tend to reproduce. But don’t worry, even Nion and Gryff can find love.
Then there’s the accents the actors use in this film, which might not have bothered me if I hadn’t started watching “Outlander.” Hemsworth is still sporting his Scottish accent from the first film, but Chastain’s accent seems to change from scene from scene, as if she was trying to figure it out as they went through the filming process. But it seems odd because only Freya’s soldiers seem to sport Scottish accents because everyone else has a British accent, unless director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan decided Scottish accents made for a good distinction of Northerners.
Improbably, this movie is thoroughly enjoyable if you know what you’re getting yourself involved with. At the screening I attended, I noticed a lot of walkouts, particularly people with younger children. Yes, this movie is incredibly dark, but it also has Hemsworth walking around with a big goofy grin on his face the entire movie, even winking at a girl who is the latest child to be turned into one of Freya’s soldiers. Theron is there, chewing scenery in every scene she appears in, especially at the end of the movie where she’s manipulating what looks like tar that also spews out of her mouth. Blunt, although giving the most restrained performance of the film, is also capable of spewing out bizarre dialogue and giving a well-rounded performance that feels like it’s aware of everything else going on around it.
Even more baffling with this film is it having the subtitle of “Winter’s War” and trailers that seem to promise as much batshit insanity as possible from Blunt and Theron, most of it is spent on the road with Hemsworth and company as they try to find the mirror. It has more of a feel of a historical comedy for a good half of the film than an action fantasy film with a war. (And there’s not much of a war. Sorry.)
The movie feels like it got the memo as to what the audience liked about the film the first time around and upped it for this prequel/sequel, which oddly works if you know going in what you’re getting. This is a movie where in the last 20 minutes Ravenna wears three different outfits for no better reason than, “Let’s see how many stunning, over-the-top costumes we can put on this character.” “The Huntsman: We Left Out Snow White” is a film that really has no reason to exist, but it’s here with a seeming motto of “Go Big or Go Home.”
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” might be the campiest wide-release, major studio movie that will come out in 2016 and it feels like we should applaud it for simply existing and sticking to its artistic convictions, as bizarre as the movie is at times. If only it had gone will a less clunky message and had a better end credits song.