For a movie I had no interest in and has been savaged by critics (13% on Rotten Tomatoes, wtf?!), I quite liked The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Both The Visit, and The Boy, horrendously horrid abominations the both of them, each scored higher than Winter’s War. The Visit even somehow got in the 60% range. So the critics can respectfully go and fuck off on this one. Unfortunately, audiences listened to the critics and stayed away which is really too bad because the movie is a hell of a lot of fun.
Much better than Snow White & The Huntsman, Winter’s War is filled with actors I like immensely including Chris Hemsworth as Eric (the titular Huntsman), Emily Blunt as the Ice Queen (Freya), Jessica Chastain as his Eric’s doomed wife Sarah, and Charlize Theron returning as the evil Queen Ravenna. Nick Frost returns as the dwarf, Nion as well. Kristin Stewart is not along for this ride and while I do like Stewart in some roles, her absence is not felt in the slightest. It’s probably a good thing she wasn’t brought back because she would have been blown off the screen from the star wattage on display.
While marketed as a prequel to Snow White, Winter’s War is really both a prequel and a sequel. It also largely throws out most of the continuity from the first movie so its difficult to parse what is an actual plot hole and what are reimagined scenes from the first movie. For those of you that have the first movie memorized feel free to bash me in the comments but I’m going with what the movie gave me and what I inferred was going on.
Starting several years before Snow White was born, the evil sorceress Ravenna (Theron) kills yet another king and takes his kingdom. We are introduced to her lovely non-magical, kind hearted sister Freya (Blunt), quickly learn Freya is pregnant with the child of a prince promised to another. On the night of their elopement the prince kills Freya’s child and in her rage Freya unleashes the power of ice and destroys him. Heartbroken, she retreats to the North where she raises an army of Huntsman, stealing children to serve as her warriors, and attacking nearby kingdoms. Two of those children grow up to be Eric (Hemsworth) and Sarah (Chastain). This all happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie so don’t be putzing around in the kitchen when the movie starts.
The story is dark and exciting, funny and tense in equal amounts. This is a dark fairy tale and the cast has fun but the movie never strays too far into lighthearted territory. Director Cedric Nicola-Troyan does a good job juggling a complicated plot keeping it serious but fun. The effects and costume design are astounding, Hemsworth and Chastain get to mangle Scottish(?) accents, Blunt gets to play a tragic villain with all the Shakespearean gravitas she can muster (it’s a lot), and Theron once again gets to melt down the screen and chew the scenery to shreds. Queen Ravenna is used sparingly in this one but she makes the most of her arch villainess role and commands the screen when she appears. The movie hints at a third installment but the story is wrapped up at the conclusion. Which is for the best since Winter’s War tanked at the box office.
It’s a fool’s game to predict what will work for audiences and what won’t. From the first trailer I thought The Huntsman: Winter’s War looked more interesting than the rather dour and grim Snow White & The Huntsman. I didn’t hate the first movie but adding Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to any production is a wise move in my eyes. That’s just basic science. Or math. Maybe statistics? Regardless, they are two of my favorite actresses and the prospect of seeing them together with the greater Hemsworth and Charlize Theron was enticing.
Seeing the first movie is not required to enjoy this one. In fact Winter’s War goes out of its way to distance itself from the first movie. Snow White is mentioned only a few times and the brief times we see her the camera is at a distance and behind her. Put Winter’s War on during a rainy Sunday afternoon. Come for the eye candy, stay for the surprising humor and enjoyable story.
The trailers and clips give away too much but I want to end this with a reworking of “Castle” by Halsey used for the end credits. It’s an ear worm from hell but the tone is perfect for the movie.