Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Movie Review: "The Huntsman: Winter's War" (2016)

© Universal Pictures

When your film's big climactic reveal turns out to have been the first thing you're shown in the advertisements, you know you're in trouble. For the mucky, semi-prequel to 2012's surprisingly enjoyable Snow White and the Huntsman, star Kristen Stewart opted out of ever returning to her kingdom, and as a result, we're handed the underdeveloped The Huntsman: Winter's War in an attempt to keep this non-existent franchise alive. A story about hate and revenge that's so ripe with motivation, almost to a laughable degree, every character has their plate full with battles to rage—and little else. As a result, there are more than a few good ideas here; it's just too bad they were all forced to be in the same movie.

Long before the events of the previous film (with Snow White), the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) (you know, who Snow White killed) has taken over another kingdom, this time with her hopeful, non-magical sister Freya (Emily Blunt) by her side. But when Freya gives birth to a baby girl, sudden tragedy strikes that loses her the love of her life, her child, and her last shred of hope. Her grief having sparked an intense magical awakening, Freya and her new power to create ice from nothing retreat far to the north, where she 'rescues' young children from the painful love of their parents, raising them into an army of Huntsman in a land where love is forbidden.

Among the hardened recruits, Freya's most skilled warriors Eric (Chris Hemsworth) (the one who helped Snow White!) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) reject her laws and pursue a life together--not expecting to be brutally torn apart. It isn't until Ravenna (remember, from Snow White?) returns many years later that Eric and Sara find their way back to one another, finding they've forever changed, and Freya is forced to come to terms with how she was unknowingly forced into this dark and lonely life. (.... Snow White.)

Considering the eye-rolling catch-up we're treated to during the opening minutes of the movie, you'd think name-dropping Snow White every twenty minutes or so, just to be sure we don't forget we're in the same world, wouldn't be necessary. But apparently you'd be wrong. With a cast of actors like this—strong, talented, beautiful women FTW!—it's a wonder no one could figure out how best to use them. Individually, they give it their all, particularly Jessica Chastain, who is so fiercely talented, she could emote through a cardboard box; there's just only so much she is given.

Her chemistry with Hemsworth is palpable but not enough, and ends up being a distraction more than anything else. Hemsworth as the Huntsman sacrifices his personality for charm this time around, which is bound to make those inclined (like me) grin when he grins, but it won't endear us to his valiant efforts to take down yet another Queen. Given their own film, this could have grown into a love story worth watching; 'twas not to be.

If anything, it's Emily Blunt's Elsa Freya who should have been given the patient development she deserved. Blunt isn't smoothly cruel and malicious like Theron's Ravenna (who appears like nothing more than an afterthought in this), which makes her far more interesting. She rules with a shaky, frozen hand, and there could have been so much explored with her that was completely ignored. Where were her moments of discovery? Her ascension to power? Are we so ruined by Frozen that we find it anything other than unacceptable to not see the ice castle rise from the mountain-side?? Creating a magical character by giving them an origin story without allowing us to see them discover their powers is like promising us a prequel but giving us the sequel instead (oops, spoiler).

Don't get me wrong. There was potential, but that tragic Tomatometer reading isn't wrong. Nothing comes together the way it should in Huntsman, primarily because it's far too ambitious without ever doing the leg-work to earn what it tries to do. It's a game of cancellations, the good then the awful (Freya's frozen owl spy? Good. The remarkably slow polar bear-wolf thing she rides into battle? Awful.), and director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan never finds the right balance. He may have intended to reach Tolkien-levels of fantasy, tossing around goblins and treasure and loner rulers in far-off realms, but the waters were too muddied and the script too lacking to breach any new territory.

Every last iota of substance is drained out of this movie to make room for ice and gold-leaf and black tar leaking from the frozen stone walls. It's the problem with big-budget studio flicks these days—they're more interested in creating shots they can shove into a trailer with a bad-ass song (Halsey!) than they are about doing justice to their story or writing characters for A+ talent to sink their teeth into. What we're left with is an overly emotional and stylized snooze-fest.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. What a great cast in such a terrible film. "Snooze-fest is right."

    - Zach


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