A film review by Craig J. Koban April 29, 2016


2016, R, 114 mins.


Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman  /  Charlize Theron as Ravenna  /  Jessica Chastain as Sara  /  Emily Blunt as Queen Freya  /  Nick Frost as Nion  /  Rob Brydon as Gryff  /  Sheridan Smith as Mrs. Bromwyn  /  Alexandra Roach as Doreena  /  Sope Dirisu as Tull  /  Sam Hazeldine as Leifr  /  Sam Claflin as William  /  Sophie Cookson as Pippa  /  Liam Neeson as Narrator

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan  /  Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin 


Was the movie world ravenously clamoring for a Snow White-less sequel to 2012’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN? 

Answer: Not…really. 

To quote its full title, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR commits the greatest cinematic sin possible for big screen fantasies: it’s resoundingly dull and inspires frequent watch checking.  It’s also proof positive that arresting visual effects, strong production design, and a solidly assembled cast means ultimately little if the resulting film is much ado about nothing.  

To be fair, I greatly enjoyed SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, mostly because it treated the underlining material with a hauntingly beautiful darkness and sinister intrigue.  It did a bravura job of transforming one of the most iconic and well-known fairy tales into a rollicking fantasy adventure film.  Reports of a sequel were inevitable back in 2012, but with star Kristen Stewart’s much publicized fling with director of Rupert Sanders, chances of both of them returning seemed slim.  THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR feels more like an obligatory studio effort to cash in on the success of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN than a worthwhile and necessary continuation of the events and story from it.  There’s rarely a moment in THE HUNTSMAN that justifies its existence beyond that. 

At least this sort of prequel, sort of sidequel, and mostly sequel contains a semi-interesting setup (that, and it has Liam Neeson’s authoritatively bassy voice providing an introductory narration track that brings viewers up to speed on what’s happening and this new film’s change in narrative direction).  Roughly the first third of THE HUNTSMAN takes place before the events of SNOW WHITE, giving some exposition on how Eric the Hunstman (Chris Hemworth) became the man he did and how the evil Queen Revenna (Charlize Theron) essentially stole the thrown away from her meek-minded sister Freya (Emily Blunt).  When Freya feels betrayed by a hellish act seemingly perpetrated by her lover, she instantly becomes jaded and vindictive, fully harnessing her powers to control ice and snow while kidnapping children to turn them into her soldiers and protectors.  She has one major rule in her new dictatorial kingdom: no love of any kind is allowed.  What…a…killjoy. 



Two children in particular under Freya’s evil reign are the Huntsman and Sara, and as they mature into adults and cunning warriors (played by Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain respectively) they also develop…feelings for one another, which is a big no-no.  Feeling betrayed (yet again), Freya decides to banish the pair and separate them, making the Huntsman believe that Sara was killed in the process.  Flashforward seven years (and after the events of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, for those still keeping mental track) and the magic mirror has been stolen and the Huntsman takes it upon himself to ensure its safety before Ice Queen of the North Freya can use it for her own nefarious purposes.  Teaming up with the Hunstman are four dwarves (not seven) as well as – wouldn’t ya know it? – Sara, who has miraculously returned from the grave and has a bone to pick with her ex-lover, seeing as she mistakenly believed that he abandoned her all those years ago.   The Huntsman has an awful lot on his plate. 

To be fair, THE HUNTSMAN does a few things right, like pairing Oscar winner Jessica Chastain with Hemsworth, making for an effectively kick ass medieval couple.  Hemsworth is arguably one of the few actors that can inhabit utterly preposterous fantasy films and somehow make them feel more grounded with his earnest enthusiasm and self-deprecating charm.  He clearly gives it his charismatic all in a film that doesn’t place too many challenges upon him.  Chastain, even with a wobbly accent, is also quite good at matching Hemsworth's considerable screen presence, and she brings a feminine poise and rugged tenacity and spunk that suits the role well.  They’re assisted by the appearance of Nick Frost and Rob Brydon as a pair of digitally augmented dwarves that revel at arguing with one another at the most importune times.  The film also has some endearing camp value amidst its ultra solemn and macabre tone, with Blunt enthusiastically vamping it up as her cold hearted queen.  Her scenes with Theron’s Revenna (delegated to more of a cameo role than the film’s trailers otherwise suggested) are a hoot, to be sure.  Theron, much as was the case with SNOW WHITE, is not afraid of coming off with broadly odious strokes.  Her commitment to her richly insidious villain is commendable. 

Like SNOW WHITE, THE HUNTSMAN looks frequently sensational, especially when it comes to Colleen Atwood’s sumptuously rendered costume design.  Regrettably, all of the fancy movie window dressing in the world and a strong cast of proven industry vets can’t override the overall narrative sluggishness of THE HUNTSMAN, which feebly hops from one forgettable set piece to another.  The whole rationale for Snow White not appearing in this film are, for the most part, predictably lame, being explained with a few lines of throwaway dialogue and some brief glimpses of her from behind (as to not reveal that Stewart is obviously not playing her again).  The screenplay has a kernel of intrigue in the realm of Freya’s descent into madness and how she uses innocent children for her own twisted needs, but it’s pretty clear early on that her inclusion in the film is to pathetically echo the look of Queen Elsa from massively popular FROZEN, and the attempts here feel desperate and lack subtlety altogether.     

Replacing Rupert Sanders in the director's chair is Cedric Nicolas Tryan, who does his best to mimic the stylistic conceits of the first film.  Alas, his action sequences are messy and chaotic and he seems to favor a bit too much CGI overkill to hopefully wow audiences when the script and character dynamics fail to do so.  The more the film progresses the more numbing and tiresome action sequences get thrown at viewers...and the more tedious the whole enterprise becomes.  Thrown in for good measure are some would-be shocking plot twists involving even more betrayals (this film’s mythology thrives on bloody betrayals) that rarely comes off as dramatically genuine or even earned.  The film culminates with a flashy climax pitting nearly all of the aforementioned characters against one another with winner-take-all stakes…but the stakes themselves are remarkably hard to give a damn about in the long run. 

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR is not a bad film.  It’s just an utterly redundant one.  I did appreciate the swashbuckling camaraderie of Hemsworth and Chastain as well as Theron and Blunt obviously deriving considerable merriment out of their cartoonishly over-the-top villainesses.  But this cast, again, can’t save a hollow minded and fairly soulless sequel to an introductory entry that never once demanded a follow-up film, especially without its titular character.  For those of you out there that are pondering the spending of hard earned money on THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR my best advice to you would be this: 

Let it go

  H O M E