NOT EVEN a quartet of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actors can bring The Huntsman: Winter’s War in from the cold.
It’s odd that this half prequel, half sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman has been made at all, coming as it does a full four years after the first movie, which is probably more memorable for causing Twilight co-stars Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson to break up after Stewart had an affair with the film’s director Rupert Sanders (no judgement here, but it’s a fact) than as a piece of cinematic art.
Perhaps understandably Stewart is conspicuous by her absence in this fairytale follow-up that starts badly, is mostly flat in the middle with a few exciting action set-pieces and finds its feet with some spectacular swords and sorcery stuff at the end. So maybe it was for the best then.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the hunky Huntsman opposite Charlize Theron, who is also back and literally dripping with malice as the evil witch queen Ravenna. Coming along for the ride this time around is Jessica Chastain, as the ass-kicking Sara, and Emily Blunt, as snow queen Freya, sister to Ravenna. Sara and the Hunstman (he’s still oddly nameless) go way back. Their village was destroyed by Freya, who’s been driven mad by the death of her infant child and now lays waste to the north where she keeps her kingdom as cold as ice. She keeps the children of the wasted villages in thrall to her power and uses them to fight for her.
Narrator Liam Neeson (at least we think it’s him) tells us, in the manner of a talking guide at a museum, that “if she couldn’t raise a child, she would raise an army”. So her motives are pretty clear, even if the reason why Neeson’s narration only exists in the first few opening scenes of the film isn’t. Freya’s only rule for her kingdom is that none shall love. But Sara and the Huntsman are already falling for each other.
If Blunt’s character sounds familiar that’s because it’s clearly based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale that influenced the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia films (well, they were books first) and more recently Disney’s Frozen.
The script, by writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin (with characters by Evan Daugherty) is mostly bland and predictable. But it does deliver some moments of genuine laughter, not least when dwarves Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) – they’re the only ones to feature in the film – encounter dwarvettes Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach). Smith and Brydon in particular are a hoot as they tear verbal chunks out of each other.
Hemsworth assumes the lead, but despite his fine acting chops and a Scottish accent that sounds reasonably authentic, unlike Chastain who seems to wander across the British Isles, not even he can bring any real life to the role which is only meant to show us how handsome and buff he is. Which of course he is. Instead, the real stars of The Huntsman: Winter’s War are its women. Theron, Blunt and Chastain. A triple threat of talent and beauty that make this whole expensive song and dance worthwhile.
Theron is glorious in gold, one moment whispering intensely in her sister’s ear and the next cackling loudly, while blunt is sublime as a bereaved mother who shuns affection in the wake of her sudden and tragic loss and turns to a madness that destroys everything around her. There’s not enough of either of them on screen, especially Theron, given the film is at its best when these two interact. Chastain meanwhile shows she’s got what it takes to deliver an action role and still bring in the emotion.
Final word: A flat script fetters some fine actors in this late-coming prequel/sequel but stay with it to the end for some rewarding visual spectacles and three of Hollywood’s finest female actors duking it out on screen at the same time.
If you liked The Huntsman: Winter’s War you should also watch:
- Snow White and the Huntsman
- The Chronicles of Narnia