THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR review

I actually never saw SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN in theatres. I went online to seek it out because I didn’t want to see it without having some foreknowledge about this now-franchise.

Short review of the last film, I actually liked it. It was almost too easy to make it awful, yet it was actually pretty good. It’s no masterpiece, and I definitely think it rips off Lord of the Rings too much, but Chris Hemsworth was really good, Charlize Theron delivers a bat-shit crazy, scenery chewing performance that I adored, and like I said, I like that it did away with easy movie tropes.

And before anyone says anything, yes, I am aware of Kristen Stewart’s affair with the director. Zero shits given, moving on.

Fast forward to this prequel, I gotta say, I was more excited for this movie than I thought I’d be. Emily Blunt? Jessica Castain? Returning favorites Hemsworth and Theron? Um…money. Take it. Shut…the…fuck up and give me a movie ticket, damn you! Fantasy adventures are already a guarantee to get my ass in a seat. But I have to admit that prequels make me nervous. Similar to the Star Wars prequels, there’s too many elements that the prequels introduce that make neither an appearance, nor a reference in the original trilogy. As WINTER’S WAR is a prequel, there were problems I was already spotting. It looks like Eric encountered Ravenna before, and the script from the first movie implied that their meeting in that movie was their first encounter, there’s a sister that was never referenced, it was shaping up to annoy me. But as usual, the cast blinded me to reason, so I kept my expectations high. Finally, I got my ticket and, no duh, it’s time to give my honest opinion of THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR.

(SUMMARY)

In a distant past, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) continued to take kingdoms with her magic. At her side was her faithful sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), whom didn’t have powers. She was also not as cold as Ravenna. In fact, she was kind and fell in love with a man whom she would have a child with. But her then husband killed their child and in a fit of rage, Freya developed her powers and froze him dead. Refusing to ever love again, she took the kingdom for herself, slaughtered the happy families in her kingdom and took the children in to raise them to love only her and no one else. Such was the supposed fate of young Eric (Conrad Khan) and young Sara (Niamh Walter). As adults, both Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) become Freya’s best warriors. They also become lovers, calling each other married, which catches the attention of Freya and she stages an intervention that results in the death of Sara, and Eric thrown off the side of a cliff, presumed dead. Seven years later, Eric is living comfortably in Snow White’s kingdom. Almost immediately, he’s paid a visit by William (Sam Claflin) who tells him that Ravenna’s magic mirror was driving Snow White crazy and it’s been taken away, only to be go missing in the process. Reluctantly, Eric takes the job, along with his dwarven friends Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon). But Freya soon discovers that Eric is alive and sends her own team of huntsmen to kill them. But when they meet, and are overwhelmed by their attackers, Eric and the dwarves are saved by a warrior of incredible skill, revealed to be Sara. So begins a quest to recover Ravenna’s mirror before Freya gets her hands on it.

(REVIEW)

First and foremost, it should be made aware that this movie is heavily advertised as a prequel to SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. This is partially true… for the first fifteenish minutes. Then the movie segues into being a sequel. And yes, it’s a sequel without Kristen Stewart. Piss off, you Twilight-lovers! But it is essentially a sequel.

Moving on, is it better or worse than the first? Actually, I think this is a little better. Mostly because Snow White isn’t in it, whom was a dull character in the first flick. No offense to Stewart, of course, she didn’t write the character. I’m only speaking about the role, not the actress portraying the role. In Snow White’s stead, however, we get Sara the bad-ass warrior. We have the return of Frost as a dwarven side-kick, and new dwarven companions, one of them being Mrs. Bromwyn, played by Sheridan Smith, whom I absolutely adore.

Let’s dive in. Hemsworth is clearly the headliner here, and yes, he’s basically Thor without Mjolnir. It still works, though. He’s hilarious, he’s charming, he’s got a million dollar smile… yeah, I’m a flaming heterosexual, but I’d go gay for him. He carries the movie very well. Eric is still a great and lovable character, it’s everything you’d expect out of him.

But let’s talk about the newcomers. I’ll start with our dwarven lady of attitude, Bromwyn. She’s is a total bitch… the good kind. She’s fucking awesome, constantly talking shit to the male dwarves and is a wonderful comic foil. I think one of the best parts of the movie with her is when she’s got Eric and his team hung in a tree and she proposes to let them down if Eric takes his shirt off and prances around. Dear lord, that mischievous look in her eyes, that lustful smirk, this was comedy gold. And while fellow female dwarf Doreena, played by Alexandra Roach, and Nion are having an adorable little romance, Bromwyn and Gryff are fighting their base urges by slinging insults. Once again, it’s adorable. I don’t know why, but I love this sort of juxtaposition humor.

Speaking of the humor, it’s a significant improvement over the first movie. At the very least, even if you don’t like the film for its nonsensical story choices, the movie does occasionally acknowledge it too. While I won’t give away context, Eric has to find a way into Freya’s castle. His companions look at him and ask if he has a plan, to which he replies, “yes.” Then ask him if his plan is any good. Rather nonchalantly, he says, “no.” And when the plan unfolds, yeah, it was a hilariously horrible plan. I guess I can respect a script that knows it had no way to come up with a better scene, so it copped out and gave the audience that forewarning. Self-aware humor always gets me.

Now, let’s talk about one of my favorite characters in this franchise now: Sara. For many, it’d be pretty obvious that she’s basically a rip-off of Marvel’s Black Widow and Hawkeye. In fact, it’s pretty shameless in that regard. When Sara is up close and personal with her enemies, she fights like Widow. Lots of spin kicks, flips, complicated twirls on the dude before taking him down, that sort of shit that Scarlett Johansson is now known for. And when Sara is at a distance, her weapon of choice is a bow and she “never misses.” Gee, sort of like she has the “eyes” of a “hawk” or something. I’m sure I’ll be in the incredibly small minority who will forgive this as I do love Chastain significantly more than Johansson.

***SPOILERS***

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In the prelude to the story, Freya throws up an ice wall to separate Eric from Sara. However, Freya makes them see things that didn’t really happen. From Eric’s point of view, we see Sara killed by her comrades. But we later find out from Sara’s point of view that she saw Eric simply run away like a coward, which wasn’t the case at all. It’s completely understandable why she harbors such hatred for him when they are finally reunited. She may be an antagonist of the story, but she’s not a bad guy and this tension does make for some great drama between her and Eric. Granted, it makes no sense why Freya didn’t kill either one of them in the past, she had the means to do so, but as it stands, Sara is a great complement to Eric.

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***END SPOILERS***

When these characters are reunited, their chemistry is great. Eric is baffled, Sara’s angry, and his desperation to win her over again using that same iconic Hemsworth charm, it doesn’t take long for Sara to start smiling or giggling. Or even better, to start throwing sarcasm his way either. While their relationship continues to be fairly complicated, it is a strong one and did find myself wanting them to reconnect.

And Theron… the return of her bat-shit crazy acting as Ravenna. My god, I just want to adopt her. When she widens her eyes at the camera, my very soul quivers in fear because I just don’t know if she’s going to whisper a threat to me, or shout it really loud. And when tar flows out of her mouth like a faucet, it only adds to the insanity that is her character and it’s such a treat to see this back… and the woman looks damn fine coated in gold.

However, not all of the characters were as memorable or well-incorporated. Doreena, for example, unfortunately suffers from only being interesting when she’s with Nion. While Nion would be funny by himself, Doreena wouldn’t be interesting by herself. I couldn’t tell you anything about her other than these superficial details: Nion’s love interest, and Bromwyn’s friend.

But the real cardinal sin of the film is Queen Freya. Blunt is a phenomenal actress, and to be fair, she’s not awful when her character is given the room to showcase her talent. Unfortunately, there’s just no enough of that intensity to really hold any water. Her introduction is perfectly fine. The story of a once gentle heart who became as cold and bitter as her sister is actually a pretty tragic story. It’s no tear-jerker or anything, but it gets the job done in order to understand her. Even showcasing how she exacts her revenge by bringing in the children to raise them to only love her and fight like monsters for her is not a bad angle. The problem is, aside from being the villainous Elsa that FROZEN (2013) never got to make, her menace is reduced to an afterthought when the rest of the movie takes off. She’s just a schemer, a complainer, and doesn’t do much until the final twenty some-odd minutes. Thankfully the film is carried well by Eric and Sara, but it’s clear that there should have been better balance between developing the protagonists and the antagonist.

***SPOILERS***

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And again, a lot of her choices don’t make a great deal of sense. Like I said before, she shows Eric and Sara lies; Eric runs away like a coward, and Sara is killed. But… why not actually kill one of them. Her whole thing is that no one can fall in love, but it seems incredibly short-sighted to believe that will just… happen. I mean, kids become teenagers. Teenagers are notorious for having hormones. Hormones trigger boners for the opposite sex. Guess what? Both Hemsworth and Chastain are gorgeous people! Friendships, partnerships, that ignites trust, which can evolve into fondness and likability, which isn’t a stretch of the imagination is that evolves into lust, or even romance. This isn’t a pattern of human emotion that’s difficult to predict. I mean, I guess Freya does find out pretty quickly, but how in hell is she surprised? But more than that, if the punishment for falling in love is death, then kill one of them. Kill Sara and have Eric leave Freya’s kingdom in a fit of rage.

If I could change anything, some sort of magic would have brought Sara back to life as a mindless drone meant only to hunt down and kill Eric. Not that I mind the drama that I ultimately got in the movie, but I do feel like there were ways around how the story got to where it went. I do feel like there was a level of laziness to the writing on Freya’s part. I wouldn’t be shocked if somewhere down the line that Blunt would go on record to say that she would regret this role.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, despite its imperfections, I still really enjoyed this flick. I know it’s a bomb at the box office, and chances are, there won’t be a third film. I find that to be a shame because I do like these movies. Too bad, as it looks like I’m just one of a few. If you’re going in expecting Lord of the Rings, then clearly you’re not going in for the right reasons. But anyone’s viewing of this might depend on how you liked the first movie. If you didn’t like it, WINTER’S WAR is still better, but probably won’t change your mind. But if you want to see Hemsworth act like Thor and hold up the movie just as effectively, that’s what you’ll get. If you want Chastain to be bad-ass, the dwarves to be awesome and funny, Theron to be off her rocker, then you’ll get it. It’s obviously not high art, but it’s a fun movie if you know what you’re looking for. As you can probably tell, I did, very much so, and I would like to see it again.

My honest rating: 4/5

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