The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

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I was not one of those people who enjoyed Snow White and the Huntsman. Visually, it had some positives, and Charlize Theron really nailed her role as the wicked Queen, but I just found the whole thing pretty moronic. However, the movie was a financial success (nearly US$400 million on a US$170 million budget), so of course they had to make an unnecessary sequel/prequel: The Huntsman: Winter’s War. And boy does it suck.

This is a movie that had no shame. With Kristen Stewart refusing to return to reprise her role as Snow White, they decide instead to focus on Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), whom you might recall in the first film was a widower and drunkard who made a deal with Queen Ravenna to track down Snow White in return for bringing back his dead wife.

Well as it turns out, contrary to everything the first film suggests, Eric the Huntsman is actually some kind of super warrior trained since he was a child by none other than the Queen Ravenna’s younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who happens to be a real life version of Elsa from Frozen. What’s even crazier is that there’s actually a whole army of Huntsmen just like Eric, including Sara (Jessica Chastain), a redhead adept with a bow and arrow who has alarming similarities to Merida from Brave. There’s a lot more ridiculous stuff that this film pulls out of its anus just to make the contrived story work, but I can’t divulge them without spoilers.

What is fascinating is that the film is both a prequel and a sequel in that it begins before Snow White and the Huntsman and ends after it. Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is referenced several times but you kind of forget she’s even part of the same world. And it ignore the fact that the first film totally alluded to a romantic future between her and the Huntsman. Basically, it just completely distorts the events and characters from the first film so that a new story can be concocted. It’s as though the writers just sat around a table and just brainstormed a bunch of ideas — like stealing from Frozen and Brave — and then made up ways to fit them into the same universe. It wasn’t supposed to fit and didn’t fit, but they forced it in anyway.

And look, it’s not like Snow White and the Huntsman made any sense either, but it made a lot more sense than this one because at least that was written as a standalone film. Winter’s War, on the other hand, was an obvious and contrived money grab that pillaged any scraps it could find from its predecessor to cobble together a barely coherent mishmash of blatantly rip-off ideas and cliches. This wasn’t a “Oh, it’s clever how they created a sequel by expanding on the existing universe” situation. This was more of a “WTF is going on?”-type situation.

It felt like the all-star cast had a lot more fun making the movie than audiences had watching it. Whether it was the lure of playing crazy fantasy characters with magical powers or a paycheck that got them on board is anyone’s guess. In all fairness, however, the acting wasn’t too bad considering the material they had to work with. The special effects and costume teams, both of which picked up Oscar nominations for Snow White and the Huntsman, do a solid job again here, so at least visually, the film isn’t too bad.

Sadly that’s about the extent of the praise I can twist myself into giving Winter’s War.   It is by no means the worst film of 2016 thus far, but it certainly is the most irritating.

1.75 stars out of 5

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