Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

huntsman

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016): Roth Films/Universal Pictures

As Aslan, sorry, the narrator (Liam Neeson) begins to recount how Snow White and the Huntsman’s journey continues, we get an immediate sense of how bottom-rung this fantasy, and how desperate this mid-quel, really is.

Snow White has locked herself away in her castle and Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to his old way of life. When the evil Queen Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) slightly less evil sister Freya (Emily Blunt) makes a push from her frozen fortress to find the fabled magic mirror and bring winter to the world, Eric, fellow warrior with a troubled past Sara (Jessica Chastain) and a gang of tag-along dwarves are all that stand in her way.

The charming, but only intermittently Scottish Hemsworth teams up with the even more intermittently Scottish Chastain for much of the film’s runtime. In fact, scratch that last part – Hemsworth’s accent may not be any worse than Mel Gibson’s in BRAVEHEART, but Chastain sounds like Groundskeeper Willie. Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of her character – like Eric the Huntsman, only better in every way – but her performance is simply awful. At least Emily Blunt delivers another solid turn, taking cold (hur hur) detachment to an art form, even if she is just doing a gender-flipped Mr Freeze from the Emmy-winning BATMAN animated episode “Heart of Ice”. The much-publicised return of Charlize Theron as the hiss-worthy Ravenna is mostly for the effects-heavy finale, a conclusion that is visually eye-popping and entertaining enough but completely devoid of soul, a big problem for a film that is supposed to have the central theme of love ruling people.

I know you have to just go with fairy tales and sign up to the grammar, but leaps of faith and logic can only go so far. The narrator surmises of Ravenna”With the mirror, she was invincible”. The same is said if Freya gets hold of the magic mirror later on. Um, how? How does a method of divination equal immortality or invulnerability? It might give you a head start, and allows for a plot turn later on, but very little else. The power the mirror holds is always ambiguous, malleable to what the plot requires. Still, the liquid gold remains a really cool visual effect.

Snow White, what little we’re allowed to see of her since her performer jumped ship (or was pushed) is made out to be a great warrior, leader and ruler as part of her genetic makeup, because that was so in-keeping with the source material last time and because every fantasy has to be LORD OF THE RINGS now. Can’t these fantasy universes be their own thing? You can make Snow White dark as the Brothers Grimm did, but it’s just not an epic story of that scale and shouldn’t be forced into that mould.

The sight of known comic actors’ heads being grafted onto smaller people’s bodies is still terrifying. Because having a recognisable face to deliver sub-par standup routines is apparently more important than giving the job to someone who doesn’t need the aid of a special effects suite to perform, and who might not get as substantial an acting job elsewhere. Nick Frost obviously had enough fun last time to return, Rob Brydon has to do something when he’s not doing adverts for supermarkets, but Sheridan Smith is ridiculously talented and needs to learn to say “no” to her agent.

I can’t get overly annoyed by The Huntsman. It’s just so mediocre it’s impossible to feel much of anything about it. Aside from Blunt and Theron acting well above what this project required, it’s a repetitive, cynical and empty affair. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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