By Chaz Lipp
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a dramatically inert fantasy/action adventure that does at least boast sturdy (if unspectacular) special effects and a strong cast. Part prequel and part sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, Winter’s War ditches Snow White and focuses on Evil Queen Ravenna’s sister, Ice Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), instead. If the idea of an embittered, isolated princess who can mentally encase any object in ice sounds familiar, yes—Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen is an acknowledged source. Some have snarked that Winter’s War is a live-action Frozen rip-off, but honestly it’s not all that similar in terms of plot points. But as a means to deal with the omission of Snow White, evoking the Disney mega-hit was a pretty chintzy move.
Truth be told the first film was no great shakes to begin with, but Winter’s War struggles mightily to live up to that already-shaky standard. Chris Hemsworth is back as Eric the Huntsman. We first see him as a child (Conrad Khan), training under Freya’s rule. Since the loss of her child, Freya has forbidden love from blooming among her charges. Of course, that basic human emotion can’t be suppressed and soon a romantic interest develops between Eric and huntswoman-in-training Sara (Niamh Walter as a youth, Jessica Chastain as an adult).
Embittered Freya manages to separate Eric and Sara, convincing the former that the latter has been murdered. The bulk of the narrative is fixated on the search for the deceased Evil Queen Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) stolen Magic Mirror. Theron’s role is minimized here and her eventual resurrection doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s a fantasy film and as such a certain amount of convolution is to be expected. But the plot turns in Winter’s War feel especially tangled. A few more killer action scenes would’ve helped (there are a couple moderately exciting sequences, including a ferocious battle with monstrous goblins) smooth over the rough patches. Comic relief comes in the form of four dwarves—Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Doreena (Alexandra Roach), and Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith)—who join forces with Eric in the search for the Mirror.
Through the “magic” of special effects, the quartet of dwarves is portrayed by actors of typical physical stature rather than actual little people. Shame on the producers of Winter’s War for not casting actors who could handle those roles without the use of effects. It would be one thing if the characters were tiny sprites or something that doesn’t naturally exist. But faking dwarfism instead of employing diverse casting is unnecessary and unfair.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War Images: Universal Pictures