April 24, 2016
Chris Hemsworth has been a busy guy ever since he donned his cape as Thor in 2011, making a name for himself with his versatility in a wide range of pictures. Opening this Friday, April 22nd, Hemsworth returns as The Huntsman from the 2012 picture Snow White and the Huntsman in the somewhat conflicting The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Hemsworth moves center-stage as we learn of his origins, as well as what comes after the conclusion of Snow White. Though a fun film, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is highly predictable and rarely feels authentic in a world that is clearly designed to seem real.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is tells the intertwined tales of two sisters and of two lovers, serving as both prequel and sequel to Snow White. At the start, evil witch, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), rules her kingdom with her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), at her side. When a terrible tragedy befalls Freya, her once dormant magical powers manifest in a chilling form and she heads to the North to create her own monarchy, while Ravenna focuses on the South. In the North, Freya kidnaps children to become her soldiers, henceforth known as Huntsmen, who train, fight, and, if necessary, die so that she can rule the entirety of the North. Of all the things she commands, the one law she holds above all others is simple: there can be no more love. This is where we meet Eric and Sara, played by Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain respectively; two children who grow to become the fiercest of Freya’s Huntsmen and leaders of her army. When these two break her most precious law, Freya’s grip on her kingdom begins to waiver.
There is, paradoxically, too much and not enough going on in The Huntsman. It spends thirty minutes fleshing out Eric’s backstory before flashing forward to the events after the 2012 film, which serves to simultaneously get the audience up to speed on the main characters in the story and allow for some interesting action sequences. Unfortunately, because there is much to get through, it’s hard to feel any real weight in the decisions or actions of either Freya or Eric because we spend so little time with them before the main story sets in. The next hour, however, is fairly entertaining as Eric leads a small group in search of the Huntsman macguffin, the magic mirror. By working to fit everything in, the final thirty minutes of the film begin to feel rushed. The writers assume that much of this audience would have seen, let alone remembered, plot points established in Snow White and the Huntsman, causing them to skip over what could be some intriguing character development for both Eric and Freya, the two most interesting characters in the entire story. Instead, by seeking to cram as much as possible into its two-hour runtime, the story, though entertaining, frequently feels unnecessarily dramatic as it runs headlong into its highly predictable resolution.
Credit must go to the fantastic cast of the film, though. Charlize Theron as the revived Ravenna just chews on the scenery, clearly having a delightful time as the evil queen. Hemsworth, charming as ever, reminds us easily why he’s grown so well into a leading man. He exudes charm and conveys confidence, even in the most ridiculous of situations. New cast members, Emily Blunt as Freya and Jessica Chastain as Sara, hold their own, as well. Both portray strong women whose love for others appears to be their greatest weakness and strength. In a film that is cleverly female-driven, featuring strong non-damsel characters, more time should have been spent with both Freya and Sara to really flesh them out beyond their initial motivations and roles as set pieces. Each of these spectacular actors raises the bar on what could have been a schlocky mess.
Though this film has its quirks, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a fun time at the movies, and that’s really all it is meant to be. There’s no political statement made, nor is it meant to incite discussion of the metaphysical; rather, it’s designed to be an escape into a world of fantasy. Would I have loved if this film had stood on its own, rather than as a continuation of Snow White? Yes. But when Huntsman works, it’s a delight. When it doesn’t, it’s all forgivable as long as you’re willing to let go.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5
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