The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Everyone loves a prequel! No? Well, if not surely you’ll love sequels then? No? Well, never fear, welcome to first time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the first prequel/sequel hybrid, a psequel if you like, that I can remember since 300: Rise of an Empire! Set before, and after, the events of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders), we follow the escapades of all your favourite characters, except, thankfully, Kirsten Stewart’s Snow White.
When we join the action, the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is at the height of her powers, Kingdoms fall before her, and she has her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) by her side. If you’ve watched the trailer major plot points are spoiled, but suffice it to say, bad things happen, and the fairly benign Freya becomes an Ice Queen, powerful in her own right, and leaves to conquer a Kingdom of her own. In doing so she basically harvests children, training them up to become her Huntsmen, her only law that they do not love. Cue the two best of these trainees, Erik (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) falling for one another. More bad things happen, and we jump seven years ahead, and meet up with Erik again as he’s sent on a quest to recover the evil one ring, sorry evil mirror, that has disappeared as it is taken to a safe place. Add comic relief sidekick dwarfs, Noin (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), and we have the setup for the rest of the movie. Buckles shall be swashed, doubles shall be crossed, love shall conquer all, and all in entertaining enough fashion.
There is a fair amount to enjoy about this movie, and not just the fact that the insipid Snow White is absent in all but name-checks and the back of a stand-in actress who does a far better job of emoting the character in 20 seconds than Ms Stewart did in a 2 hour and 7 minute movie, but I digress. As I was saying, there is a fair amount to enjoy here, however that is due mainly to it feeling like a greatest hits of films you’ve seen over the last couple of decades. Liked Lord of the Rings? Well there’s plot points, characters, and visuals that look and feel very familiar. Have a soft spot for Alice in Wonderland? Come marvel at some of the fantastic costumes, and beasts. Enjoy Frozen? Yup, there is an Ice Queen! Rise of the Planet of the Apes? We’ll call them Goblins in this cinematic offering. The thing is, it’s not really a bad movie for it. The story -though you could write it out and seal it in an envelope beforehand, and I’ll bet you’d get 90% of it right- carries on at a decent and entertaining pace.
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, in the hot seat for the first time after being second unit director on Maleficent and the previous Huntsman film, does a very credible job of keeping things light enough for a film that you suspect he knows is quite a bit more style over substance, keeping things moving fast enough that you never have time to deconstruct much, or ask too many questions of the plot holes.
Performances are very good all in all. Hemsworth is very Thor, and interacts very well with all his co-stars. The one thing to note about his performance is his woeful Scottish accent, which unfortunately Chastain follows suit on. I did muse that at least he kept it consistent with his turn on the previous movie, but after his linguistic gymnastics in these two films and In the Heart of the Sea, I think he should step away from anything too regional for a while. Chastain is a likeable enough love interest, and a powerful character in herself, offering a good foil for the Huntsman, as well as being more than a match for him. Emily Blunt treads the line between tragic and unsettling very well, but we’d expect no less from such a superb actor. Frost and Brydon also do what they do in a very satisfying fashion, and bring a chuckle when the story is getting a bit too serious for its own good.
As with the original movie, Theron obviously loves this scene chewing stuff. Evil and she knows it, and unapologetic about it too, she munches her way through every set she’s placed in, and the film could probably have done with having more of her in it.
It goes without saying that the costumes and set design for Winter’s War are a feast to the eyes, and really can give you something else to look if you aren’t a fan of the film the scene you are watching plays homage to.
The plot is predictable, the scenes lifted from other films, there is a lack of any real depth to anything that goes on, but the thing is, you’ll probably really enjoy this film. The cast are fun, and the direction doesn’t let you linger on the shallowness of the story. I’m brought back to films from the eighties like Willow, Krull, or even Hawk the Slayer. If you are young this won’t leave you bored enough to ignore it, and the whole thing action packed and pretty enough that it’ll probably stick with you. For folks of my generation it’ll kick up a certain feeling of nostalgia, and for a brainless pop-corn flick you could do a lot worse.
This is a film that will never be considered a classic. Its themes are too old and hackneyed, and it doesn’t do anything new, but I don’t think it’s trying to. It knows that it’s a good night out at the cinema. For families there’s enough going on to keep the kids amused, it moralises just enough to the kids for their folks to approve, and winks just enough for the parents too. For a date night it’s themes of Love Conquers All will fit right in, and it provides enough action and romance to keep everyone happy.
To sum up, this is a great film to go see when you and your friends can’t decide between you what to watch, just don’t set your expectations too high, and you’ll come out with a smile on your face. That is if you sit through the bad accents all the way to the end.
- a fun brainless pop-corn movie
- Charlize Theron chewing scenery
- good action, and comic relief
- No Kirsten Stewart!
- the accents, oh my poor ears, the accents!
- more cinematic tropes and themes than you can shake a stick at!
- a predictable plot