“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” picks up seven years after the events of the first movie while providing backstory on the Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister Freya, the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt). It is neither sequel, nor prequel, but something awkwardly in between (a post-midquel?). A movie in story arc limbo, “Winter’s War” is more of a winter wonderland, leaving you to wonder not only if a follow-up to the 2012 movie was even necessary but if this was indeed the movie you thought you were going to see in the first place (Spoiler Alert: It’s not!).
By now, moviegoers are pretty well-versed in the “3 Rs” of Hollywood–Remake, Reboot, Reimagine. We might look upon these efforts with a jaundiced eye, but we understand these things happen. Indeed, the studios are banking on our ability to forgive and forget (hello, 2013’s “The Wolverine”…goodbye, 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”). In “Winter’s War” there are cutaways and flashforwards to a “present-day” Snow White to explain away Kristen Stewart’s absence from the film, as well as the omniscient POV and voiceover to introduce Freya the Ice Queen and her legions of child warriors, who eventually grow up to include The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). It is all very convenient!
I was willing to put up with convenience as long as it ultimately connected to why I was motivated to see the movie: to witness an engrossing battle fueled by sorcery and strategy between two powerful women. Finally, a “versus movie” that made sense and didn’t negate the agency of its female leads…unlike that other versus movie I saw in March! A girl can dream, can’t she? Sadly, “Winter’s War” had more in common with the loosely constructed world building of “Batman v Superman” than it did with the taut political and familial drama of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. No time was given to explore the complexity in Ravenna and Freya’s relationship as sisters and as rulers. And certainly no time was given to their final showdown–if anything, the showdown did more to display Hemsworth’s “Thor” fighting skills.
On a positive note, the film is visually appealing. Like the tundra, the cinematic landscape is bitter cold and painfully beautiful. Charlize Theron looks every bit the part of the Evil Queen and literally oozes wickedness even as she smolders. Hemsworth hunks it up per usual and soldiers through sequences despite an uneven accent. Jessica Chastain takes to the physicality of her role–reminding me of an adulting Disney Princess Merida if she had a less stable home life. And as the Ice Queen, Emily Blunt displays her patented ‘vulnerable strength’ (which she carried to perfection in last year’s “Sicario”); in one eye-catching scene Blunt rides in triumphant on a fantastic polar bear-like beast that would make even Peter Jackson cower and blush.
Alas, a good movie is only script-deep and looks alone cannot save “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” from being an icy hot mess! 1.75 out of 5 Cosmic Afros