The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

The Story Before Snow White

Working as a sequel/prequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter’s War sees the charismatic Chris Hemsworth, Thor (2011), reprise the role of Eric (the titular Huntsman) whilst telling the full account of what was touched upon in the original movie — Eric’s Huntsman origins, along with the tragic loss of fellow solider and ‘wife,’ Sara (Jessica Chastain). Audiences are also made witness to the beginnings of the Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who unleashes an icy power within her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) — a force she’s never known existed (think 2013’s Frozen). Following her heartbreak and a devastating betrayal, Freya heads North to start an army, comprised of children that had been taken from their families and brainwashed, taught that all love is evil. It’s here that viewers meet would-be-soldiers Eric and Sara, and see them transform into the most powerful warriors in the Ice Queen’s army of elite ‘Huntsman.’ After the lovebirds lock lips, Eric and Sara are thrown out of the kingdom, exiled for defying the Queen’s only rule and left to die.

'Just let it go, sis ...'
‘Just let it go, sis …’

Flash forward seven odd years (completely bypassing the events of Snow White and The Huntsman) and first-time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan fills in the gaps (particularly for those who might’ve missed the former adventure) — Queen Raveena has been defeated while an unseen Snow White now governs the domain. However, that ‘mirror, mirror’ (that was once) on the wall, is still causing all sorts of trouble, Snow White sending it away from her providence for good. But when this MacGuffin is stolen, Eric the Huntsman’s services are once again required as he is instructed to locate and destroy the gold-plated looking glass. What ensues is an epic voyage that sees our axe-wielding front man reunited with a familiar face from his past.

To be quite blunt, Snow White and the Huntsman is the last film that anyone would have expected to see a continuation for. Upon its initial release, the said film was met with lukewarm reception and middling box office returns, along with negative chit-chat surrounding Kristen Stewart’s on-set romance with married director Rupert Sanders and her subsequent break-up with heartthrob Robert Pattinson. So, why do we have a sequel?

Well, I guess visual effects whiz Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who worked as VFX supervisor on the 2012 feature) saw some potential in revisiting the material. And to his credit, he does a relatively fine job in transporting audiences to a long-ago fantasy land, filled with monstrous gold-loving goblins, sorcery and fierce good vs. evil clashes. Look, that’s not to say that Winter’s War is up to the same (exceptional) standard of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) — it falls more in the realm of Willow (1988) or Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) — but it’s definitely an enjoyable entertainer (thrilling at times, too), with edge of your seat moments scattered throughout. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is also lighter than its predecessor — thanks to screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Hercules (2014), and comedy scribe Craig Mazin, The Hangover Part II (2011) — with a lot more humor scattered in amongst the sword clanging heroics; one can’t help but enjoy the quips Eric makes about how wonderful and strappingly strong/handsome he just so happens to be. And oh, the track ‘Castle’ by Halsey, which plays over the closing credits, is a nice little touch, too.

It's hunting season!
It’s hunting season!

Now although The Huntsman: Winter’s War is advertised as ‘The Story Before Snow White,’ the majority of the movie actually takes place after the events of its forerunner making the experience rather choppy if one is yet to see the former film — there’s a long prologue and a whole lotta back-story thrown in before the real fun begins. So a word of warning, one should really watch Snow White and the Huntsman prior to delving into Winter’s War.

The A-list cast certainly look as though they’re all having a ball dressed up as their favorite Game of Thrones (2011) characters but everyone gives a spirited performance, which totally elevates things. Chris Hemsworth is essentially playing Thor, I mean the Huntsman with a twinkle in his eye, whilst Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow (2014), brings depth to the character of Freya, so much so that one cannot help but hope her goodness returns by the story’s fold. Where Kristen Stewart was bland and miscast as Snow White, Jessica Chastain, Mama (2013), delivers a feisty turn as Eric’s lover Sara (her Celtic accent ain’t half bad either), the pair complimenting one another nicely, this chemistry urging viewers to root for the couple as they strive to be united once again. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), shows up at the eleventh hour as the wicked Queen Ravenna, and although her return makes little plotting sense, Theron’s presence oozes greatness, royalty and malice — she’s clearly relishing the part.

Elsewhere, Nick Frost, Paul (2011), returns as the loveable dwarf Nion while Rob Brydon, Cinderella (2015), depicts his bitter partner, Gryff. The lads are also joined by two ‘horrifying’ lady dwarves: Sheridan Smith, Quartet (2012), embodies the tough-as-nails Mrs. Bromwyn whilst Alexandra Roach, The Iron Lady (2011), plays her sweet yet strong sidekick Doreena, these gals providing some comic relief, adding levity to proceedings. Oh yeah, and that voice doing all the narration is in fact Liam Neeson, Clash of the Titans (2010).

'Who are you meant to be, Merida?'
‘Who are you meant to be, Merida?’

At the end of the day, The Huntsman: Winter’s War exists as a harmless popcorn romp, a throwaway flick with a cheeky cast and some ‘cool’ visuals to boot — it’s a better movie than its originator (an anomaly when it comes to second outings). In the barrel of follow-ups that nobody really asked for, this one ranks much higher than both Zoolander 2 (2016) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016), and heck I think I’m one of the few people who could possibly go for a third.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by L. Jackson

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is released through Universal Pictures Australia