In many ways, The Huntsman: Winter’s War serves as a far more fun, accessible movie than its 2012 predecessor, Snow White and The Huntsman. In many, many other ways it feels like a horrifying Frankenstein’s Monster made of disparate story threads pulled from Disney’s Frozen and a Marvel What If! comic dressed up in a golden dress, from a studio desperate to create a franchise. Winter’s War struggles to justify its existence from the very first minute, and not even the star-studded cast of Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain can help it.
The story begins years before Snow White with Theron’s evil Ravenna betraying her sister Freya and unleashing her icy magic upon the world. Freya, portrayed by Blunt, exiles herself to the North wherein she kidnaps, indoctrinates and trains an army of loveless warrior children called the Huntsmen and uses them to expand her snowy kingdom. Two of these children grow up to be Hemsworth’s Eric and Chastain’s Sara who wind up loving each other, causing Freya to enchant some ice to make Eric believe that Sara has died; because if she cannot love, then no one can.
After some subtitles telling us that the story has fast-forwarded to seven years later, we are reintroduced to Eric, who is now apparently extremely jovial in the wake of Snow White’s reign. After some exposition, Eric and a pair of comic-relief dwarves (Rob Brydon and Nick Frost) are sent on a quest to retrieve and destroy Ravenna’s magic mirror. Along the way, the heroes meet their contractually obligated love interests in lady-dwarves, Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Eric’s former lover Sara who shockingly isn’t dead. However, if we’re supposed to believe that Eric and Sara are supposed to be romantically linked, it doesn’t show. Instead the chemistry between them feels like someone who just spilled a cup of coffee on the other.
There are some fun and good things about this film though, for example the way Hemsworth plays the titular Huntsman. Hemsworth plays Eric as a jovial, almost Indiana Jones-type character, stumbling into bad situations and trying to use his charm and big, goofy smile to get out of them. Hemsworth and Chastain have to employ Scottish accents for some reason throughout the movie and the amount of time Chastain’s accent randomly changes is delightful. The director of Winter’s War is Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, head of Snow White’s visual effects, and he continues to relay on those effects, embracing style over substance. Between the magic mirror’s golden goop and gold horned goblins, this film is a visual masterpiece, especially whenever Ravenna and Freya are on screen together dressed in some of Colleen Atwood’s best creations, with makeup and hair done by Luca Vannella.
Ultimately, I liked this movie, through there are very obvious and glaring problems with it. I ended up caring more about the costuming, makeup and visual effects more so than any character or what the outcome of the movie even was. If this was simply a two-hour long runway show with the cast modeling their costumes and Emily Blunt’s polar bear-dog, I would have enjoyed it more.