We are in a culture that loves nostalgia and brand recognition, especially in the film industry. Whether it be sequels to existing movies, adaptations of comic books/video games, or simply being based on a thing people have heard of, everyone is looking for their film to have some type of connection to pop culture in its conception. Even in a culture that is making films based on emojis, The Huntsman: Winter’s War still seems like a bit of a stretch when it comes to a recognizable property.
I’m sure 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman was meant to spawn a franchise, but after its very lukewarm reception, why continue on with this sequel/prequel/spin-off? While the film’s existence reeks of corporate mandate, the filmmakers involved put their best effort forward and The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a serviceable fantasy romp. The cast does fine with the material given, the visuals are fun, and all the necessary boxes are checked when it comes to a fantastical adventure film. If the question is, “was there really a need for this film?” Then the answer is pretty much a resounding “…meh.”
Did We Need Huntsman: Winter’s War?
Serving as both a prequel and a continuation to the events of the original film, The Huntsman follows Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sarah (Jessica Chastain) as they seek to protect Snow White’s kingdom in the face of a new threat. The new threat? Freya (Emily Blunt), the evil ice queen who is the sister of the original evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). That seems like a pretty straight-forward synopsis, it is when the movie gets in motion that the pointlessness of the film starts to show itself.
For instance, when announced that Theron would be joining the sequel, our interests were peaked looking for an answer as to how she could return after the events of the first film. Well, it turns out her character is back because…well, just because. Sure, there is some magical fantasy explanation as to how her character is back, but it’s pretty flimsy, and the audience just needs to accept that she is back for the sake of being back.
In describing the involvement of Ravenna, we find the narrative is simply thrust into the film without much thought. Do Eric and Sarah have a struggling romantic life they are trying to figure out? Sure, why not. Is Nick Frost back playing a Dwarf, and is there a lot of scenes with some Dwarf-related joke? Go for it! Does a single tragedy lead to Freya being an evil tyrant (who kills villagers and steals children) for the rest of her life? Just go with it.
All of the cast members are perfectly serviceable. Theron chews up the scenery, obviously having fun in the role. Blunt does a fine evil queen impersonation, nothing noteworthy here. Both Hemsworth and Chastain work as the leads in the film, sometimes their goofy Irish accents were a bit jarring. All four of these characters are at their best when they aren’t talking, but rather fighting.
After serving as Visual Effects Supervisor and Second Unit Director on the original Snow White and Maleficent, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan made his directorial debut here. His background in visual effects definitely paid off, as the film has some pretty good effects and environments. Though Ravenna has a weird tar tentacle power and Freya has the power set exactly like Frozen’s Elsa (exactly like Elsa’s), the best action scenes are those just of people brawling in a bar. I think Nicolas-Troyan has an eye for this type of blockbuster filmmaking, but there is just zero creative spark behind this movie’s purpose.
I wish there was more to write about here, but have you seen the trailer? Well, what you see is what you get, probably just a little more boring than you are expecting. I would be surprised if The Huntsman: Winter’s War inspired strong negative reactions from people, just as I would be surprised if there were major fans of the film. It splits it down the middle, and sometimes that is the worst thing you can say about a film. Fantasy completionists will find elements to like, fans of the Dark-Snow-White-Cinematic-Universe will enjoy and be looking forward to the next film focused exclusively on Nick Frost’s Dwarf character, for the rest of us, nothing here to really get attached to. It is a shame. For a film starring three of Hollywood’s best action-oriented actresses, I wish this was a film we could celebrate. Sadly, there is just too much blandness to recommend watching The Huntsman: Winter’s War.