D: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. DP: Phedon Papamichael. W: Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. Starring: Charlize Theron/Chris Hemsworth/Emily Blunt/Jessica Chastain/Nick Frost/Rob Brydon/Sheridan Smith/Alexandra Roach/Sam Claflin/Sope Disiru.
Spring may be a time of renewal, a chance for the resurrection of the beauty of spring. Yet it can also be a time to clean out lives or ideas and see what else can still work together. In an effort to continue to capitalize on the fairy tale explosion of this decade, Universal brings us the new film The Huntsman: Winter’s War. It is as boring as its title suggests and should have been more amply titled: The Queens’ War.
Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan hails from a visual effects background and was the second unit director on both Snow White and The Huntsman and Maleficent. An in house Universal project from start to finish, the film was (despite reports) clearly commissioned to work around the exclusion of Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart in the previous film. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is thus both a prequel and a sequel. It is constructed to introduce Freya (Emily Blunt) as Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) sister before the first film’s events. Out of grief from the loss of her child Freya then creates her Huntsman army that includes Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and his lady huntsman equivalent Sarah (Jessica Chastain). The film then jumps seven years later to a point after Ravenna’s defeat at the hands of Snow White and Eric.
The central drama of the film surely lies with Ravenna and Freya. Blunt does well to make Freya fragile yet hard hearted. It is a testament to Blunt’s likability that I excuse her blind trustfulness of her sister, the story is far too simple anyway. Hemsworth physical presence still pounds through the screen, but he is not convincing as an emotional romantic lead. Chastain’s Scottish brogue is decent, but the pair don’t have memorable chemistry. They are all a bit too Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters for me. The film’s production values are probably more interesting that its actors; the visual effects get you through a flimsy script.
Oscar laden costume designer Colleen Atwood continues to do stunning work. In fact the most exquisite part of the production is her work. Ravenna’s gold dipped feather coat or Freya’s crystal heavy gown are simply breathtaking. Both women wear finger length rings that tap against the ice and stone fortresses they build. The concept of Freya’s icy power unfortunately seems a bit Elsa from Frozen, but Ravenna’s birth from the gold mirror and black tar oozing violence is fit for the dominating presence of Theron.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War has come under scrutiny for attempting to be a kind of feminist vehicle toting developed female characters but failing. Sadly each character is defined by a lack of love of a man or a child. Ravenna speaks of being destined for something else, but not without recognizing her initial desire for motherhood. Her quest for power comes from vanity she sees reflected in her beloved mirror. Her vanity pushes her to build an empire, nothing more. The film ultimately becomes a love drenched cheese fest that falls short of the more beguiling Maleficent.