A long time ago, the cinematic realm was ruled by mighty works, until the evil studios stepped in and brought with them armies of reboots, remakes and sequels… Seriously though, while we are all up for a imaginatively thought out reboot (Mad Max Fury Road) or well crafted sequel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), there are a lot of films today that simply do not need to be. To that point, you could argue that few people seemed to be clamoring for a follow up to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman but with fairytale/fantasy live action makeovers all the rage at the moment (Maleficent, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland), we have just that. So as The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Snow White’s naffed off this time around) arrives at the gates of cinemas, has this follow-up nobody really asked for exceeded expectations?
This sequel first goes back before the events of the last film and tells the story of the wicked Queen Ravena (Charlize Theron) and more importantly her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) whose ice conjuring powers are awoken after a betrayal by her lover costs her the life of her child. This leaves Freya cold to the idea of love and vengeful in ruling her own kingdom. In the process she steals children and has them trained up as huntsman loyal to her, one of these very huntsmen is Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and his secret lover Sara (Jessica Chastain). But when the ice queen discovers their budding romance, she sees fit to shatter their love and kill them (she’s no Elsa that’s for damn sure). However, years later, the story then picks up after the events of the last film, as a still alive (as we all knew) Eric is called upon by Snow White’s forces to lead a defense against the ice queen Freya, who is out to get hold of the sinister magic mirror used by her sister, that will grant her unstoppable power.
From Frozen to Brave to The Golden Compass to Game of Thrones, the influence of many fantasy and family works are felt in the screenplay to this cluttered sequel, that is in frantic search for validating its own existence. It must be said this sequel does actually improve upon its drab predecessor and the lack of Kristen Stewart’s disinterested Snow White (who looked like she was doing a math’s quiz as opposed to being in an adventure last time) is a blessing. This sequel is punchier, funnier and initially not a bad (if wholly by the books yarn). Sadly, these elements of comic crunch (Rob Brydon’s dwarf Gryff and Sheridan Smith’s dwarfess Mrs. Bromwyn have a very funny- and a little sweary- first meeting) do seem to fizzle out as the movie becomes a rehash of the originals style centred and empty action sequences.
The performances do salvage some quality, as Hemsworth is by far a more interesting protagonist than Stewart was and, as Huntsman Eric, is charming and funny. He strikes a decent chemistry with Chastain, who is well placed as an action heroine, albeit her wonky Scottish accent distracts throughout. Emily Blunt harnesses chilly energy as the ruthless Freya and while massively underused (she is in the film at the beginning and end basically) Charlize Theron once more is a baddie befitting a better movie. Sheridan Smith, Rob Brydon, Nick Frost and Alexandra Roach offer fine comic support as the four dwarf companions too. Unfortunately the film is once again let down by its downhill momentum, that scuppers the efforts of the cast the longer it goes on.
There is, once again, some outstanding imagery but once the mid-point is passed, the film basically runs out of steam, with its story becoming predictable and a near rework of parts of the first film. And the concluding twist is clearly visible from the early few moments of the movie, with the corresponding action sequence being all style no substance and the whole movie descending into a flashy but hollow spectacle, with a gushy story about love being unbreakable.
This film is not all bad but it is a follow-up that really did not need to be made and wastes the efforts of a game cast on a screenplay that feels like an amalgamation of other better movies and TV shows. There are ideas here but the visuals eventually take credence over the story, as the film descends into a big budget Revlon advert. The real hero of the story becomes Colleen Atwood, whose costumes are brilliant, but the characters they are covering, are left stranded by a story that feels desperately searching for a point and when it cannot really find one, it just makes do with a CGI showcase and a Liam Neeson (if it isn’t him, it sounds a bloody lot like it is) voice telling us about love. Sometimes a visual showcase can still be a treat and this is better than the last film but it still feels wholly unnecessary.
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN / SCREENPLAY: CRAIG MAZIN, EVAN SPILIOTOPOULOS / STARRING: CHRIS HEMSWORTH, CHARLIZE THERON, JESSICA CHASTAIN, EMILY BLUNT, SAM CLAFLIN, NICK FROST, ROB BRYDON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW