One of the odd things about the 2012 fantasy adventure Snow White and the Huntsman is that despite its global financial success most can’t recall what it was about, unless, of course, you personally loved it and bought the DVD for repeated viewings. The impact wasn’t really there, and almost no one expected a sequel.
In truth, The Huntsman: Winter’s War isn’t exactly a sequel. It begins as a prequel with an introduction that comes long before anyone called Snow White was in the story, or, as the narrator informs in a voice-over that sounds suspiciously like an un-credited Liam Neeson, “One that comes before happily ever after.” It then jumps seven years later, several years after Kristen Stewart’s Snow White as Joan of Arc fantasy, and picks up with a plot that already seems convoluted before things are fully established. And there’s no Snow White, even though she’s often mentioned, which only adds to the film’s overall oddness.
The plot, as it now plays out, begins with Charlize Theron’s evil Ravenna establishing herself as queen and taking over the kingdom. Her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) shares none of her older sibling’s desire to rule, but unfortunate circumstances involving the love of a local duke, a newborn child and a gruesome murder results with a basically nice Freya turning into an instant, cold hearted, nasty one. She develops the magical talent deep within her of turning everything into ice and then leaves the kingdom in order to set up her own in another part of the land.
Unlike her Frozen Disney counterpart, Elsa, who built her ice palace, sang a really good song and wanted to be left alone, Freya has other plans. She wants to rule and build her own army of murderous huntsmen. Children from nearby villages are kidnapped, then trained to be emotionless killers. “Do not love,” the now chilled Freya demands of her army. “It is a sin. I forbid it.” Like her older, evil sister, Freya’s approach to ruling her kingdom is by killing everyone in it.
Once we finally get to the point where the film jumps to seven years later – a time long after the Snow White story of the first movie – many may already be lost in the lengthy backstory. What follows is an adventurous journey involving a rag tag bunch of characters, lead by rebellious huntsmen Eric (the returning Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) in search of their Holy Grail, which here is that magical mirror, the one that should be on a wall telling evil queens who is the fairest of them all. They’re accompanied by not seven but four dwarfs, Nion (Nick Frost), his brother Gryff (Rob Brydon), Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith, who with her great comic timing, steals the movie.)
Technically, the film is a standout. Effects are truly magical; there’s no denying the film’s visual beauty – both Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt are at their most attractive in the film’s many dazzling and eye-catching costumes – but the story echoing all kinds of elements that feel like mash-ups of not only Frozen but also The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, is scattershot. And then there’s the bizarre element of the accents.
We develop our speech patterns from our peers, so hearing Hemsworth and Chastain attempting Scottish accents when those around them have no trace of the highlands is another layer of oddness, particularly when they don’t do it well. It’s an issue that also extends to both Brydon and Frost. They’re supposed to be dwarf brothers even though Frost sounds as though he’s straight out of London’s East End while Brydon talks in his native Welsh. Like the plot, the voices throughout are all over the place.
“There is another story,” the narrator tells from the outset. “One that you have not yet seen.” And we nearly didn’t see it. Originally, a regular sequel with Kristen Stewart returning as Snow White was planned with rumors that director Rupert Sanders would also be back. However, a set of revealing Us Weekly pictures of the married Sanders in an affair with his leading lady resulted in a public embarrassment for all. Sanders’ wife, Liberty Ross – who played Queen Eleanor in the first Huntsman adventure – filed for divorce. The negative publicity was not good. But Universal wasn’t going to let it go, and what was meant to be the further adventures of a sword-wielding Snow White was then redeveloped without Stewart or Sanders’ participation. That explains why there’s no Snow. But there is plenty of ice, and the film’s one saving grace – humor, courtesy of the bickering Brydon, Frost, and particularly, Sheridan Smith.
In the same way that no one expected a follow-up to the 2012 fairy tale, this visually impressive though clumsily told second feature all but guarantees that no one should expect a third, with or without Snow White.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)