What, what, what are you doing? Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Georgia Mueck reviews the much hyped prequel/sequel mashup to Snow White and the Huntsman that not even fabulous costuming could save.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a take on the classic Snow White fairytale with one big difference; it doesn’t actually feature Snow White. Okay, that’s not entirely true, she’s mentioned by name at least twice, maybe three times, and there’s this one scene of the back of someone vaguely Snow White-looking, but that shot was only on-screen for a total of 0.4 seconds and it was completely random. Kristen Stewart, who played the eponymous heroine from the original Snow White and the Huntsman, is quite obviously absent from this attempt at a plot hole-filled prequel/sequel mashup, and frankly I would be counting my blessings if I were her.
A gravelly voiced Chris Hemsworth over-narrated the first film, but this time round it is a just as gravelly voiced (and uncredited) Liam Neeson who’s telling the story. Why? Who knows! Just go with it! Oh and he over-narrates too. Neeson’s opening lines basically tell us this; the powers be – director, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who was behind the extravagant and Oscar-nominated visual effects of the first film) and writers, Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin – have decided to all but disregard the storyline from Snow White. That script is out the window. Instead they’ve slapped together this confused mishmash of fantasy narratives that’s sitting somewhere between a life-action version of Frozen and Lord of the Rings goes to Narnia.
It just gets more awkward from here.
Starting several years before the events in Snow White, we briefly see Charlize Theron returning as Ravenna, who’s up to her old tricks of looking fabulous and killing kings with her dark magic. Her sister Freya is a sweet and – wait, what? Sister? Freya? Who? Didn’t Ravenna have a brother?
In fact, she did! Remember this guy??
(photo of Sam Spruell as Finn in Snow White and the Huntsman. Taken from Flickr, no changes made)
This was Finn, Ravenna’s creepy bro in Snow White, who is not once even alluded to in The Huntsman. Instead, he has been replaced by Freya, played by Emily Blunt, who apparently existed the whole time despite not featuring in the flashbacks to Ravenna’s childhood in Snow White. How anyone thought that this massive plot hole would be missed, I do not know, but not a single eyelid is batted as this surprise new sibling is introduced.
Freya, who starts out as the exact opposite of her conniving sister, becomes a cold-hearted ice queen after the betrayal of her lover, that guy who played Merlin (Colin Morgan), and a sad moment of infant arson. Her absence from the first film is thus explained away by thirty minutes of either a very rushed mini prequel or a super long prologue. After turning her kingdom into a frozen wasteland and isolating herself in a giant ice castle (can someone say, “The cold never bothered me anyway”?), Freya proceeds to kidnap the children in her land and train them up to be her formidable Huntsman.
Hemsworth’s Huntsman, who is now called Eric, has blonde hair, and is apparently slightly more Scottish than in Snow White, is of course one of the kidnapped kiddies. So too is Sara, the wife whose death Hemsworth was trying to reverse in the first film. Jessica Chastain takes the role of Sara, a bow-wielding warrior lady whose attempt at a Scottish accent is actually painful. It can only be described as Scottishish mixed with mumbling. Not much stands out about Chastain’s character apart from the repetitive peddling of the line “she never misses” that is supposed to attest to her prowess as a warrior. She fires the bow a total of maybe four times, and, unsurprisingly, she never misses, so like, move over Katniss Everdeen. Anyway, Freya’s leather clad Huntsman have but one rule that they must abide by; they must never feel love…
Aaaaaand cue the Forbidden Love/ Love Transcends All trope cliché.
Sara and Eric fall in love, of course, which is shown by having their young selves make eye contact and spar fight, because you know, that’s what love looks like. As adults, the pairs’ secret romance is discovered and they are both supposedly killed/left for dead. I’d like to point out another plot hole here, as I distinctly remember Finn taunting Eric the Huntsman in Snow White about how Sara screamed his name as they killed her, which is a neat trick considering Finn has been completely forgotten in The Huntsman and Jessica Chastain did not utter a single word while “dying”. It was this kind of narrative discontinuity that made it so hard to watch this film.
Fast-forward seven years into the future and we end up on the other side of the events in Snow White. The transition is confusing and disorientating at best. Via a quick cameo from Sam Claflin, it turns out Ravenna’s Magic Mirror, which has become super evil and murderous due to Ravenna possessing it (that’s right, she’s not dead!), has been lost and it is up to Eric to find it. Help comes in the form of four digitally manipulated dwarves, played by comedic talents Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach. The on-screen chemistry and witty banter between these four were some of the only enjoyable moments in the film.
Speaking of chemistry, there is a distinct lack of it when Jessica Chastain turns out to be very not-dead (seriously, does anyone in this film series stay dead?) and joins the band to help recover the Mirror. Hemsworth and Chastain make unconvincing reunited lovers, but perhaps that’s due to the fact that Hemsworth’s character is supposed to be Snow White’s true love, another storyline that is conveniently forgotten.
While the narrative was just short of a disaster, visually the film does try just a little bit harder. The whimsical fairy land from the first film is visited once again, though with less of the Hayao Miyazaki feel to it. The CGI heavy monsters return, this time in the shape of some sort of gorilla/dog/goat “goblin”. Colleen Atwood, who did the costume design for Snow White, once again kills it in the costume department. Sisters Ravenna and Freya are juxtaposed in glorious, over-bedazzled gowns of gold and silver respectively, and have at least one costume change with every scene. Memorable moments include Ravenna’s swirly, floaty, gold-leaf birth from the Mirror that ends in her fully clothed in a golden feathered cloak as seen below.
(screen shot taken from Universal Pictures trailer)
The least memorable moments in the film would undoubtedly be the performances of anyone but the dwarves. Even Charlize Theron is reduced to typical villain monologues with none of the fiery, crazy-eyed moments that she had in the first film. For a film with three of the four top-billed actors being female, there is a whole lot of reductive, stereotypical female characterisation going on here. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy moment, however, is the final scene of the film, in which, after an uninventive fight scene and some boring character deaths, the remaining characters all decide to pair up. That’s right, folks, this film is culminated with three different sets of heterosexual kissing. Like, are they trying to make a point here or…?
Ultimately the gilded, over-abundant aesthetics and visual effects are not enough to save the failings of almost every other aspect of the film. Here’s hoping that first time director, Nicolas-Troyan, will just stick to visual effects supervising next time. Actually here’s hoping that there won’t be a next time, but unfortunately Liam Neeson suggests in his closing narration that this wouldn’t be the end of this particular mutilated fairytale. Who knows, maybe his daughter will be taken again and they’ll finally put this all to bed.
Feature Image taken from screenshot of Universal Pictures trailer.