Whoever decided that a sequel would be a good idea for a story about Snow White, in which the eponymous heroine of the story is decidedly vacant, made the wrong decision.
Her presence in the fable, albeit oft referenced and once physically alluded to (though no physiognomy of the girl known as Snow was physically seen onscreen), is an absence again and again noticeably felt. As much as the characters around her try and string together some semblance of a meaningful tale on their own, it’s apparent that this follow-up to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman was little more than a cash grab for all involved.
It’s unfortunate because that first film was a somewhat unlikely hit, or at least more of a hit than may have been expected with a worldwide gross of $396 million. Although old fairytales are usually a pretty steady go-to as far as bankability, because they already have a built-in familiarity that wholly new stories work very hard to establish with audiences, sometimes re-imaginings can miss the mark artistically and disappoint fans who are more than willing to see the same stories re-told with different gestalts.
Snow White and the Huntsman breathed some fresh (and more intriguingly sinister) air into the tale, with star Kristen Stewart making for a more brooding and armor-clad rendition of the girl befriending dwarves, and Charlize Theron’s evil queen Ravenna made for a terrifying (and terrifyingly beautiful) wicked witch. Yet, herein the follow-up film, we find Snow only tied in by passing voiceover.
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, The Huntsman: Winter’s War brings the focal point on the now-neither-living-nor-dead Ravenna (Charlize Theron), her thoroughly alive and wicked sister Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), a minion of Freya’s named Sara (Jessica Chastain), and of course, the eponymous huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth).
The film begins by explaining that the ever-jealous, power-hungry Ravenna did not care for the prediction that her sister was to bear a child more beautiful than she. Out of her envy and rage, she poisoned Freya’s lover against her, and he (while possessed), burned the child in her crib. Forever feeling betrayed by love, (and not realizing it was her sister’s doing), Freya turned her back on the world, and became the ice queen, awakening inside herself the ability to turn everything any anything to frozen destruction.
She spent years building an army of huntsmen and women, stealing children from their families, and training them to serve her in a world where there is no love, and no one is allowed to fall for one another. If she could have neither the love of her man, nor the love of her own child, she would disallow any others from having such love in their lives either.
Two such minions, Sara and Eric, fell in love despite this cruel regime. They were torn asunder by the bitter Freya, who by way of dark magic gave each of them distinct visions that made Eric think Sara had been murdered, but Sara think Eric had turned his back on her and run away. Cast into the wild, Eric and Sara spent seven years apart; each was living under false assumptions about what in reality had torn them apart.
Eventually they reunite in the forest while wandering around…and the plot is driven forward to rise up against the snow queen, and put an end to a reign without love.
Where the nonsense enters is that somehow this story is divorced from Snow White entirely, who had been integral in Ravenna’s claim to power before. It’s unclear Eric’s relationship to Snow now, as herein, he seems wholly devoted to Sara, where before his story was intertwined with hers. What’s more…Sara and Eric are—to be frank—boring protagonists. As a viewer, one finds oneself caring little for whether or not things turn out well for them, and more wishing that Theron and Blunt would have been given more screen time, as they are the more intriguing actresses, (Blunt in particular, who highlights nearly every piece of work her impeccable talent graces). Neither is it entirely the fault of either Chastain or Hemsworth, who are themselves in other work, dedicated to their craft (Chastain has delivered many a nuanced turn over the years, time and again).
But Theron looks wholeheartedly not invested, as does nearly everyone else in the picture. Blunt appears to be trying to salvage some good here, but there’s just simply not enough to go on for her to sink her teeth into. Furthermore, there is so much digital computerization of the whole scenery that it all starts to feel very fake by the end, particularly in the climactic final battle of the goodies vs. the baddies. Simply put, the story just does not have enough of a leg to stand on in order to uphold a feature-length telling filled with enduring intrigue or interesting enough fare to maintain lasting attention.
One positive aspect was that the costumes by the legendary Colleen Atwood are absolutely stunning. Those dresses Blunt and Theron fiercely don bring a ferocious beauty to them that cannot help but be noticed for the intricate delicacies that they are. Ms. Atwood having won three Oscars for her costume design over the years is no stranger to fantastic apparel, and the clothing herein is no exception.
But fancy dress aside, there’s not much else here to go on. The story is slight, and the investment by all involved does not bring any sense of heart. Here is a case where all would have done better to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better (original) story, instead of sifting through the smoldering coals of the nearly burnt out embers of the Snow White myth. Maybe there would have been more intrigue into something about which they felt more passionately, rather than going through the motions with material in which no one involved ever truly seems very interested. And a word to the wise: next time, don’t remove the main character from the story…the disservice to its telling is something from which the tellers never truly recover.
There are worse films, to be sure, but The Huntsman: Winter’s War does not inspire any kind of desire for further sequels to be made out of this well-trodden territory; notwithstanding, as hinted at near the end of the film, the money machine of Hollywood no doubt will find a way to suck further life out of it yet, despite better instincts to leave well enough alone.
2 out of 5 stars.