Fantasy is always one of the trickier genres to get right and often has trouble thriving on the movie screens. It is one of the types of film that audiences struggle to respond too. So how does The Huntsman: Winter’s War pan out? There are a few good things to say about this film, unfortunately there are a lot of bad too.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War was directed by French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. The movie is both a prequel and sequel to the 2012 film, Snow White and the Huntsman. The majority of the movie takes place prior to the events of the first. Ravenna is dead and her sister Freya has established an ice kingdom in the cold north with her army of huntsmen. Eric who had long since abandoned Freya for freedom is sent on a quest to reclaim the magic mirror which was lost en-route to a place called the sanctuary for safekeeping. Along the way Eric’s past comes back to haunt him in surprising ways.
Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron make a return, reprising their roles as Eric the Huntsman and evil queen Ravenna respectively. The film also introduces some new characters. Emily Blunt plays Freya, the evil ice queen and sister to Ravenna while Jessica Chastain takes on Sara, Eric’s fellow huntsman and wife. This is one of those uncommon films where the female cast is more prominent and stronger than the male. In fantasy films in particular this is quite rare, yet by no means unwelcome. Theron dominates the field as the manipulative and devious Ravenna while Blunt is as cold as Freya’s broken heart.
What I liked about this film is its ability to ‘up the stakes’. Eric is forced to contend with Freya who is an incredibly powerful sorceress but when she brings Ravenna back to life the game board is thrown into turmoil. Unfortunately, this plot twist was not handled with the gravity it deserved. The cracks that form in Freya and Ravenna’s relationship are a sure indicator of how things will end. I won’t spoil the specifics but if you watched the film (or are planning to) you’ll probably see the ending coming from a mile away.
I did find the plot setting interesting, two rival factions, Eric and Freya, racing to claim the magic mirror. Yet at times I felt like the story was too big for its boots. Snow White lends almost nothing to the film, she’s mentioned a few times and seen from a distance but otherwise does not feature in the film or have any lines. While her husband King William, the role reprised by Sam Claflin, serves as nothing more than a quest giver before going off and never being seen again. I understand this film was intended to focus on Eric the Huntsman but it’s strange having a story set in Snow White’s world without Snow White.
The supporting cast is bland for the most part, in particular Freya’s huntsman, though the same cannot be said of the dwarves. Inclusion of non-human races is an important component of fantasy and thankfully Winter’s War did not forget that. I am not going to say that the dwarves gave off any stellar performances and I was not a particular fan of the inserted romance sub-plot. Yet without the comic antics of the brothers Nion and Gryff (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon respectively) the film would have been incredibly grim.
Then there is the place known as ‘sanctuary’. Eric is tasked with recovering the mirror and taking it there but we learn next to nothing more about the place for we never get to see it. I suppose that with a name like ‘sanctuary’ the clue is in the name but to me that’s just lazy writing. This is but one example of where the plot dropped the ball.
Sad to say, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a film with too few positives to outweigh the negatives. The main casting was good, the costumes were excellent and the story had potential but a lot of things went wrong along the way.