As we slowly descend into the summer movie season, with its sequels and reboots and superheroes and CGI cities being razed, we kick things off with The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Remember 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman? Of course not. Sure, it seemed to be a moderate success (or at least make its money back), but it’s not like anyone was clamoring to return to this world of beefy dudes and revisionist fairy tale nonsense. (If you were, I apologize. And bless your heart). So, while the idea of a Huntsman sequel certainly feels superfluous, here we are!
Though this time around, Snow White (originally played by Kristen Stewart) is nowhere to be found, as the film decides to focus — as a sort of combo prequel-sequel — on our titular Huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). It’s not like anyone believes the exclusion of Stewart could make or break this type of big-budget fantasy flick, but moving away from Snow White in favor of the story of some guy feels like a step back. Regardless, a lot of questions no one was asking are answered, like how the Huntsman came to be, along with a plot involving Eric and his love Sara (Jessica Chastain) being separated. There’s also the basic thrust of the film: the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt) is introduced and has designs on taking over the Enchanted Forest with the help of her (mostly, sort of) dead sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
The gist of the film henceforth is — in theory — a lot of elegant CGI and a handful of requisite fantasy battles (i.e., lots of axes and arrows). The problem is that first-time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan has spent the majority of his career as a visual effects coordinator. The Huntsman is fine on a technical level, but, beyond that, it’s a rough, stonefaced venture through a few reels of not-very-fun action and a lot of wasted talent. Hemsworth and Chastain have about as much chemistry as two loaves of white bread. Blunt looks lost. Theron — who seems to be the only person in the film with the sense or capability to have fun with this schlock — is hardly in the movie.
Sure, The Huntsman looks slick once in awhile, but it’s all washed away in an overly complicated plot and a lazy screenplay that leans too much on rote exposition. The entire time I watched it, I just kept coming back to the thought of what this movie’s purpose is. It’s not entertaining, and it’s not invigorating in any sense of the word, while the story it wants to tell is just so superfluous. Although the reasons for ditching Stewart and her Snow White exist outside the artistic realm (probably due more to tabloid junk with Stewart and Snow White director Rupert Sanders), this budding franchise is still shorn of its most recognizable character, conveniently replaced with some bubble-headed fantasy badass. Here we have yet another grand action epic that need not exist in the first place. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality.