The Huntsman: Winter's War - Review

Happily ever after...or do they?
After the lukewarm success of the imperfect yet interesting take on the Grimm Brother's famous fairytale of "Snow White" in "Snow White and the Huntsman", we apparently haven't seen the entire story yet.
Along comes "The Huntsman: Winter's War" which aims to serve as a prequel but also sequel to its predecessor. With an obviously bigger focus being put on Chris Hemsworth's character, Eric the Huntsman, yet also adding new characters like Emily Blunt as Ice Queen Freya and Jessica Chastain as warrior Sara, there is quite some starpower involved here.
Question is, if "The Huntsman: Winter's War" manages to tell a story worth telling?...

The plot:
As a war between rival queen sisters Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt) escalates, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain), members of the Huntsmen army raised to protect Freya, try to conceal their forbidden love as they combat Ravenna's wicked intentions.
Source: IMDb

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" is a prequel/sequel to the imperfect yet interesting "Snow White and the Huntsman". And even though it gives you a lot more information about the titular Huntsman by telling his backstory, it turns out that it actually isn't even all that exciting and even worth telling. It's also quite a bit goofy, cheesy, and mostly boring. While it's technically a competently made film with great visuals and a premise with potential, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" ultimately lacks any true drive and "soul" to avoid making it feel like the utterly unnecessary and unengaging follow-up that ultimately is.
"Wasted potential ahead."

The story in "The Huntsman: Winter's War" revolving around evil Queen Ravenna and her sister Freya, The Ice Queen, is actually a pretty neat idea. With doors wide open for all sorts of different methods of how the story could unfold and involve different motivations, tensions between them and big emotional moments of betrayal, it's actually very surprising how uncompromisingly straightforward and predictable the entire storyline is. While the movie definitely stays true to the established personas of characters like the evil Queen Ravenna or The Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth), Freya the Ice Queen happens to a big pile of wasted potential due to her very melodramatic and very two-dimensional personality that never changes. She got betrayed and ever since became "cold", developed powers (for some reason...?) and despises love. So, she's basically every evil Ice Queen in any kids' fairytale book. While this doesn't have to be too bad, it's that this cheesy depiction of her absolutely clashes with the very outlandish, more grounded and gritty backstory of the Huntsman Eric and his "fellow Huntsmen". It turns out that Eric along with other kids have been taken in by Queen Freya to serve as their superstrong soldiers in her army (yet she still calls them Huntsmen, even though they aren't even hunters).
It's definitely a very interesting and creative new take, though it's admittedly also pretty dumb and feels often quite forced just for the sake of making Chris Hemsworth's character seem even more badass now that he has a soldier training background.

"Does my backstory make me more badass now?"

However, though it might seem that "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is all about being set in the past, this is actually not entirely true. The movie itself is both, with its first half serving as a prequel and the second half as a sequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman". And even though this was obviously done to tell a backstory of Huntsman Eric but also have him fight Ravenna as a returning villain again, one has to admit that the movie did kind of a good job blending both prequel and sequel parts rather smoothly together (nevertheless some viewers might find themselves a bit confused at first).
Other than that, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" as a whole feels tonally and thematically very much like a weird blend of "Frozen", "The Hunger Games" and "X-Men", with mixed together elements that often make it feel like the movie has trouble deciding what story it exactly wants to tell and which themes it wants to tackle.
Yet in the end, even considering the mishmash of elements, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is as straightforward and predictable as it can be - for the worse. 

"This should lead us straightforward along the predictable story."

It just all comes down to "The Huntsman: Winter's War" just bringing no noteworthy highlights or any particular strengths to the table (aside from its visuals and style). Instead, most of the movie has a very dragging and slow pace in a story that actually doesn't that much revolve around the titular "Winter's War" but rather the group of protagonists heading out to find Queen Ravenna's magic mirror. And aside from some neat visual effects here and there and an admittedly cool looking short fight against a group of goblins, there's not too much effective here that will entertain you.
Without any real sense of investment that comes across, the movie's many emotional moments like Freya's baby dying or another character's death, just come off as completely unimpactful. These scenes really feel like tired plot devices rather than anything truely gut-wrenching, either due to the uninspired dialogue, rushed characterizations or the tremendous amounts of weak performances. 

You really shouldn't expect too much in terms of action.

Speaking of acting, sadly it has to be said that pretty much the entire cast of the movie feels like they are sleepwalking through their scenes and just half-heartedly spitting out their lines. It really often conveys the feel that even the actors themselves didn't really believe in this movie's success since it probably was just a "paycheck movie" for them.
While Emily Blunt is THE new standout addition to the movie, as already said, she doesn't do too much to make her character truely feel anything more than a melodramatic diva that wants everybody else to suffer just because she suffered once. And in a fairytale that wants to give everything a rather realistic edge to it, it all comes off very childish and bland instead.
Then there is Chris Hemsworth as Huntsman Eric again, who, aside from his "out there" new backstory, sadly doesn't reveal too much noteworthy or interesting about himself. Sure enough we find out that he also is in love with someone, but the chemistry between him and his love interest Sara (Jessica Chastain) never really clicks or opens up new sides of Hemsworth's character. A bummer since he is the main protagonist and hero of the movie.

Starring: Emily Bland.

Sara played by Jessica Chastain is yet another new character and new love interest of Hemsworth's character Eric. And though she does have some short occasions in which she shows off her fighting skills, there is no denying that she, just like Hemsworth, feels quite bland throughout the entire journey.
However, the entire opposite comes in the form of Charlize Theron as evil Queen Ravenna. Though one might say that this is borderline "scenery chewing" or overacting, at least Mrs. Theron shows that she truely seems to have fun and enjoys playing the villainous character. Sure enough Ravenna is just as much of the basic evil Queen archetype as she was in "Snow White and the Huntsman" and quite some blocks away from being a quality performance, yet Theron at least manages to induce a good amount of much needed energy into every scene she is in, which is more than welcome here.

Last but not least, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" at least has some rather refreshing comedic relief in the form of the supportive protagonist dwarf gang going, which definitely liven up the otherwise quite dragging experience.

Thank goodness for Charlize Theron.

Overall,  "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is a prequel/sequel that is probably too dark for kids, too cheesy and childish for adults, and ultimately a movie that has serious problems to even justify its very own existence. Boasting only very few actually entertaining short scenes as its sole highlights, the entire movie is heavily plagued by an uninspired feel with a very dragging pace and with simply barely anything happening to keep your interest. Aside from the very outlandish yet interesting backstory of the Huntsman, there's not really anything that elevates any of the movie's characters above what we already know about them. Additionally plagued by weak performances, the only redeeming factors in "The Huntsman: Winter's War" are only the gang of dwarves who have their moments and the bursts of occasional energy Charlize Theron induces when on the screen.
Other than that, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is a stylishly and visually impressive movie, yet just doesn't have any true purpose, well developed ideas or plain "soul" to keep it alive or even at the same level of its predecessor. "The Huntsman: Winter's War" might be enough for a sunday afternoon watch but not really anything that's necessarily worth running to the theaters for.

Final Verdict: 3 out of 10


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