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Huntsman, The: Winter's War
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I Bet Kristen Stewart Is Smiling Now. . ."
1 stars

Making a sequel to a big box-office hit is usually a no-brainer, at least from a commercial standpoint, but in the case of the 2012 film “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the path to a follow-up contained more than a few seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For starters, even though the film pulled in nearly $400 million around the world, it didn’t exactly go on to become a beloved modern classic—it wasn’t even the best Snow White-related film to hit theaters the year it came out. (That honor went to “Mirror Mirror,” which was hardly a masterpiece but which at least had a snappy visual style to it that kept it from becoming too much of a drag.) Then there was the inescapable fact that Kristen Stewart, the ostensible star of the first film, was highly unlikely to return to the part following the fallout from the scandalous romance that developed between her and married director Rupert Sanders that publicly broke just as it was going into release. Finally, while Charlize Theron was the only person who came out of the project relatively unscathed with her cheerfully diabolical performance as the evil stepmother/queen, her character died at the end and while bringing her back would be easy enough in theory, it would probably cost a ton of money to get her sign on for a sequel and that is assuming that she was interested in doing such a thing in the first place.

Of course, not even hurdles such as those could give producers looking for a big score pause for too long but what approach could they take that would result in a plausible sequel? They could do a straightforward sequel and recast the role of Snow White. They could do a prequel that would focus on Theron’s character and eliminate the need for Snow White entirely. Finally, they could do a spinoff that would take place in the same universe as the original film but would tell a story that would focus almost entirely on new characters and avoid the presence of Stewart and Theron (not to mention their presumably huge paychecks) entirely. Considering how lousy the first film was, it is highly unlikely that any one of these choices might have led to a creatively satisfying film but in putting together “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” the producers have elected to make a film that tries to use all of the approaches cited above and the result is a leaden folly that has most of the necessary ingredients for a potentially great fantasy at its disposal—including a huge budget and a ridiculously talented cast—but without the slightest idea of what to do with them.

In the opening scenes, set maybe 20 years or so before the events of the previous film, we see the malevolent Raveena (Theron) adding yet another royal notch to her belt via her mad chess skills and introduces us to Freya (Emily Blunt), her younger sister and the kind of pure and sweet soul who still believes in such things as true romance. Much to Raveena’s distaste, Freya falls for a young and already betrothed lord and winds up pregnant. After having the child, the three make plans to run off and start a new life together but things go spectacularly wrong and leave Freya alone, grieving and finally convinced that love is a fallacy. She is also left with her own set of late-blooming magical powers that, in what is surely just a coincidence, just happen to conform with those wielded by Queen Elsa from “Frozen” and allow her to turn everything around her into late March in Wisconsin. With these powers and plenty of unchecked anger, Freya goes off to form her own ice kingdom where all forms of affection are forbidden and children from the lands she has sacked are conscripted into her ever-expanding army of huntsmen, whose ranks will include the first film’s chief huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), and newcomer Sarah (Jessica Chastain).

Years pass and Eric and Sarah, in defiance of Freya’s orders, fall in love and make plans to leave but inevitably, things go sideways and Eric is convinced that Sarah has been killed right before being banished from the kingdom and left for dead. It is at this point in the timeline that “Snow White and the Huntsman” entire kicks in and when our story picks up, it is seven years later and Freya’s ever-expanding empire is about to come into conflict with the lands under the rule of Snow White. Alas, Snow White is now indisposed and to make matters worse, the magic and all-powerful mirror that once belonged to Raveena is now missing. Eric is charged with retrieving the mirror for Snow White and taking it to a faraway sanctuary where no one can access its powers. Accompanying him on his quest are two pairs of comic relief dwarves—a male one played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon and a female duo played by Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach—and Sarah, who is still alive after all and nursing a grudge against Eric, whom she believes betrayed and abandoned her all those years ago. Together, they battle various monsters, the powers of the mirror and Freya’s forces and who knows, perhaps another character who has been conspicuously missing since the opening reels might turn up once again for the grand finale.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” was, as I have suggested, a pretty terrible movie that was less interested in the story it was based on than in ripping off Tim Burton’s inexplicably successful take on “Alice in Wonderland” and the only thing that kept it from total disposability despite the dour approach and the insane miscasting of the ever-glum Kristen Stewart as the heroic Snow White was Charlize Theron’s turn as Raveena, a performance that skirted to the edge of outright camp but never quite went over into total silliness. As bad as it was, it at least maintained a certain vision, myopic as it might have been, throughout. “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” on the other hand, feels as if the studio commissioned a number of different screenplays for a followup and, not being satisfied with any of them but not wanting to sink any more money into development than necessary, just jammed bits and pieces of them together, almost seemingly at random at times, into an ersatz narrative that viewers hopefully would not immediately notice that it was a ripoff of both the first film and “Frozen.” There are at least two narratives jostling for position here and neither of them is interesting enough to warrant much audience—with its utter lack of any sort of emotional center that might bring some kind of focus to the material, the end result is a story so chilly that it might well have been pitched by Freya herself. Frankly, the only moment of actual liveliness in the story comes during the moment when they finally grapple with the problem of how to handle the presence/absence of the Snow White character—without giving it away, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, a visual effects supervisor (whose credits include the previous film) making his directorial debut pulls it off with the kind of subtlety and cleverness not seen since Ed Wood deployed his wife’s chiropractor to fill in for the late Bela Lugosi in “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

Of course, the most dispiriting sight on display is the sight of a number of uncommonly good actors stranded with a script that plays more like one of those cheap SyFy knockoffs than a legitimate movie. You would think, for example, that any movie with the good taste to bring the likes of Blunt, Chastain and Theron would almost have to be at least sort of interesting based on their combined presence alone but that is not the case here. Both Blunt and Chastain are hobbled with characters that are thinly drawn and which give them precious little to work with—the latter is further constricted by a Scottish accent that is theoretical at best. Hemsworth was a big bore as the Huntsman (and no, they never explain why they are called that instead of just hunters, especially since people of both genders are forced into their ranks) and seems even less enthused with the proceedings this time around despite his promotion to being the theoretical center of the story. Frost and Brydon can usually be relied upon to contribute a few laughs whenever they turn up but even they fail to find much comedic inspiration in playing wacky dwarves. As she did the last time around, Theron is the best thing her but even her contributions are not quite as impressive here, partly because the performance is more self-consciously campy this time around and partly because her character is kept off the screen for so long.

There may actually be people out there who have been looking forward to a sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman” with the kind of anticipation that other felt towards “Mad Max:Fury Road” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” but I cannot imagine even those hardy souls being even remotely satisfied with “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” It is not so much a movie as it is an assemblage of half-baked ideas strung together almost seemingly at random in lieu of an actual story. Sure, it has tons of visual glitz going on in virtually every frame but even that is not nearly enough to distract viewers from its utter pointlessness since none of the images are particularly striking. By the time it finally stumbles to the orgy of meh special effects that constitutes its ending, most rational-minded viewers may find themselves wondering if there will be a third installment and, if so, who they need to sleep with in order to get out of seeing it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=27761&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/22/16 02:57:11
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USA
  22-Apr-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Aug-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-Apr-2016
  DVD: 23-Aug-2016


Directed by
  Frank Darabont

Written by
  Frank Darabont

Cast
  Chris Hemsworth
  Charlize Theron



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