Movie Review – Huntsman, The: Winter’s War
Director : Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Year Of Release : 2016
Principal Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Sam Clafin, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach, Sheridan Smith, Colin Morgan, Sope Dirisu.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: Eric and fellow warrior Sara, raised as members of ice Queen Freya’s army, try to conceal their forbidden love as they fight to survive the wicked intentions of both Freya and her sister Ravenna.
Finally, the sequel/prequel we’ve all waited years to see…. Okay, so nobody actually asked for The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the follow-up film to original marriage-wrecking box-office mediocrity Snow White & The Huntsman, but we’ve got one anyway. Sans Kristen Stewart, who’s too busy resurrecting her career following the fallout from her dalliance with director Rupert Sanders, and now upgrading previous 2nd Unit Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to the Big Chair, The Huntsman sees returning star Chris Hemsworth and chief villainess Charlize Theron now accompanied by Emily Blunt and and elfin Jessica Chastain, although even with this heavyweight Hollywood A-list talent the film caves in upon itself in a genuinely wasteful example of style over very little substance.
As indifferent as I am to Winter’s War even existing, nothing can match the actual film for its own indifference to the audience and to those involved in its making. Vast sums of money look to have been spent on everything from locations, set design, costuming and visual effects, and to a tee these facets of Winter’s War are as extravagant as a big-budget can supply. Riven into the film’s DNA are the lingering requirements to somehow shoehorn Stewart’s absentee Snow White into the plot, which screwtails into both prequel and sequel territory by having the early part of the film occurring immediately before the events of the first film, and the latter two-thirds after it, but whereas the first film has a slight whimsy to its grim-n-gritty aesthetic, here things feel empty, devoid of soul as the characters, direction and story just go through the motions.
Hemsworth’s titular huntsman, Eric, is forced into action against recently defeated Queen Ravenna’s (Theron) sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), the Snow Queen, who is searching for the powerful Magic Mirror from Snow White’s possession. Accompanied by two dwarves – Nion (a returning Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) – Eric reunites with his I-thought-she-was-dead wife Sara (Chastain) to steal the Mirror and take it to Sanctuary, where it’s evil power will forever be kept in check.
Key to Winter’s War being a dreary, nonsensical waste of everyone’s time is the fact that the story and cast can’t overcome the feeling that nobody in the movie, or watching the movie, really gives a shit. With a story cobbled from the least interesting fairy tales and utilising Hemsworth’s awful Scottish brogue (seriously, he’s trying to be Scottish, right?), and narrated by Liam Neeson in what must surely have been one hell of a sweet-ass paycheck, Winter’s War is as trifling in emotional width as it is stupendously mounted in visual dynamism. But looking cool, and actually being cool are two totally different things; inspired by Disney’s Frozen to give the film’s central villain (Blunt’s Freya) a genuine sense of threat, the screenwriters try to make her some kind of forlorn, loveless shrew devoid of a shred of warmth or emotion, similar to Charlize Theron’s turn in the first film. But whereas Theron encapsulated a tragic backstory and made her character palatable as somebody worthy of empathy, if not outright sadness, Blunt’s Freya lacks that to the degree it undermines our interest in her plight at all.
The film opens with the inescapably evil Ravenna murdering her sister’s infant child, leaving Freya to isolate herself in the mountains, gathering (stealing) children to her side to raise an army with which to conquer all the lands around her. Exactly why these two siblings remain within touching distance is never explained, nor, really, is Ravenna’s apparent jealousy of Freya (although it’s something to do with her loving some dude… whatever), so immediately the audience is asking why we even care about what happens to them. Throw Hemsworth’s chemistry-free romance with Chastain’s
Tauriel Sara at the screen and what we end up with is a patter-friendly, wholly ludicrous love story that diverts the film from its true purpose – the entertain. Hodge-podge comedic pratfalls from Nick Frost and Rob Brydon offer scant relief from the “…in the same world as Snow White” repetition, but audience fatigue sets in with a pompous overtone and distinct lack of spark.
One suspects the film is designed to capture some elusive sense of wonder at its own cleverness, aided by admittedly top-level CGI. But the CG effects serve no purpose other than to fill the screen, for they add little to the story in and of themselves. Blunt’s ice-powers are well designed and executed, the lavish location filming sparkles, and the gratuitous digital animalia on display certainly look amazing, but why? Are we supposed to care about these creatures simply because they look amazing? Without an emotional hook to make this all worthwhile, all the brilliant-hued pixels in the world can’t make this film come to life. Even Cedric Nicholas-Troyan’s direction feels timid, almost afraid to flex the muscle at his disposal. Editing of action sequences is inexcusably modern considering the film is a “period” piece of sorts, and the poor man’s ability to generate either awe, fear or wonder on the screen rests solely on the ability of the CG artisans to accommodate the script’s demands… and we’ve discussed that already.
As Winter’s War churns to its cataclysmic conclusion and delivers rousing audio mixing and CG-enhanced spectacle, the movie’s charmless callbacks to genre archetype and flat-footed action sensibility send it flailing into cultural obscurity. It’s a meaningless affair, in spite of its grand-standing effort, which says more about ill-focussed Hollywood studios looking to cash in on a fad rather than develop quality stories. Lumbered with a soulless narrative and characters we care little about, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is entirely unmemorable, and even worse, a complete waste of time.
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