Most people, when you bring up this movie, will respond with, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve seen that advertised recently.” Rarely, if ever, will you get “Oh I loved the first one!” The Huntsman: Winter’s War is one of those sequels that nobody asked for. And in The Huntsman’s case, that ends up being kind of freeing. With the bar set low and no real expectations except to have pretty people fight in pretty costumes, it ends up being just as average as you would expect, but a tad more fun to watch.
Billed as a prequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, Winter’s War follows The Huntsman (aka Eric aka Chris Hemsworth) as he tries to rekindle his great love with fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) while evil sisters Freya (Emily Blunt) and Ravenna (Charlize Theron) begin to turn on one another. Honestly, the plot isn’t that important. It’s all just needless set up for slow motion action scenes and angsty acting. Aided by two dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost reprising his role from the first film) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), Eric and Sara must stop both Freya and Ravenna from destroying themselves and their world.
The problem with 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman is that it took itself way too seriously. In trying to give power to the previously helpless Snow White (they made her a warrior), they tossed aside humor and fun. This, I admit, could be a consequence of hiring Kristen Stewart as Snow White. While I think Stewart does well in certain roles, trying to convince anyone that she’s fairer than Charlize Theron’s Ravenna is just absurd. Slammed by critics and audiences alike, it was thus surprising (and must have been contract-mandated) to see a sequel.
Thankfully, tanking the first film gives Winter’s War plenty of freedom to have fun. Focusing on Hemsworth and Theron, the two bright spots of the first one, while bringing in new, proven talent like Chastain and Blunt gives the film some automatic credit. Hemsworth’s Huntsman is the perfect mix of charisma and heart, one second crushing bad guys and the next second cracking a joke with a grin. His chemistry with Chastain is believable enough, even when both are saddled with ridiculous Scottish accents. Frost and Brydon are predictable as the comic relief, but still help immensely in lightening the mood.
The weakest performances come from Theron and Blunt, who both seem too trapped by their flat characters and elaborate costumes to actually shine. Bringing Ravenna back from the dead is so clearly a ploy to bring back Theron and her insanely gorgeous eye makeup (I am obsessed with it). Blunt, normally able to be both funny and powerful, practically disappears into the simpering polar-bear-riding ice queen Freya, whose powers match just a bit too closely with Elsa from Frozen.
While the special effects are visually stunning and Liam Neeson made some easy money by narrating the film, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is all show and no substance. Still, if you ignore the tired and convoluted plot, its lighthearted tone and special effects makes it a rather enjoyable watch.