Pretty, but Pointless: A Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

The Huntsman WInter's War

This post contains spoilers!

Sometimes you want to watch a movie or read a book just to see how bad it’ll be, especially if it’s a sequel and there was quite a bit of negative feedback about the original. Sequels to debatably good originals seem to be appearing more frequently these days. For the level-headed and analytical viewer, they serve as a temptation for comparison, to see if there was any lesson learned after the original’s release.

I was shocked when I found out there would be a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, given the mixed reviews it received from critics. It was mainly ruined by Kristen Stewart’s acting which, given how frequently she appears on screen, is impossible to ignore. The movie was a bland retelling and was clearly an attempt to make more money off of an existing cultural staple. It seems that no one in the film industry has realized that the number of remakes is getting out of hand.

The latest installment in the series, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, was intended more as a prequel than a sequel, and after reading the summary I was pleased that at least one lesson was learned from the original: Kristen Stewart was removed from the screen. It wasn’t a convincing enough reason initially, but over time, curiosity won me over; I’ll admit, I wanted to see where exactly CGI-obsessed Hollywood could possibly go with this series.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t half bad. Certainly easier to swallow than its predecessor, despite what critic reviews and Rotten Tomatoes will tell you.

Winter’s War starts out as a prequel that promises to present a story that the viewers haven’t seen before. But that lasts maybe about twenty minutes into the movie, before the time frame changes and the story becomes a sequel (sadly).

The premise is a common one but comes out of nowhere: Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the original evil queen and Snow White’s stepmother, had a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt) who had an affair — and a child — with one of the court’s nobles. When her lover killed their daughter in order to save his title and avoid scandal (he was betrothed to another), Freya’s magical abilities are awakened, turning her into the Snow Queen. Eventually she leaves to the North and begins conquering kingdoms and kidnapping children, whom she turns into her army of huntsmen, instilling in them only one law: to never love. Through her tragic past, Freya sees love as a sin that can only result in pain.

The movie is a massive jumble of elements stolen from other sources, making it very easy to mock. The opening twenty minutes not only make apparent the influence of Norse mythology on Freya’s character, but also envision Emily Blunt as a violent “Elsa”. In a later scene, she also appears riding a polar bear with her army — hello Narnia, we haven’t heard from you in a while.

Her logic is questionable, too. She kidnaps children from their parents, makes them suffer and erases their emotions — if someone’s made you go through that kind of pain, how are you better than them by just repeating that mistake?

This is where Chris Hemsworth’s character Eric, the Huntsman, and his love interest Sara appear. They are both brought to Freya’s kingdom at the same time and, predictably, fall in love with each other over the coming years. Their attempt at running away together is destroyed and Sara is killed (but not really). At this point the movie jumps seven years into the future when Snow White is already in power. The magic mirror has been stolen and must be recovered before Freya gets her hands on it and turns the entire world into a frozen desert (a line literally used in the movie).

There’s a long list of problematic plot points, and though I refrain from going into the fine print, I’ll list a few here.

Firstly, Chris Hemsworth doesn’t seem to entirely know how his character should act. It’s hard to take him seriously when he spends a good chunk of the movie acting like a goofy teenager and trying to win over Sara, after both of them find out Freya tricked them and plotted them against each other in the past.

There’s also a whole subplot near the ending when Freya finally gets the mirror and her sister Ravenna comes pouring out of it, quite literally. Charlize Theron successfully takes the award for being the most glamorous but black-hearted sister ever, revealing a foreseeable plot twist that gives power-hungry a new face.

The main issue with the movie was that it created a lot of gaps in the viewer’s memory. I couldn’t remember who the two gnomes who come along with Hemsworth on his journey to save the mirror were. Then later, there was an instant reaction of “what is Finnick Odair doing here?”, when Sam Claflin’s character shows up with the royal guard to tell Hemsworth that Snow White is ill, cursed by the magic mirror, which needs to be destroyed.

It’s a wonder how this movie was made when the original was so forgettable and convoluted — a statement that is still quite applicable to its prequel/sequel, what with the ape-like goblins with gold-tipped horns and magical stags appearing out of nowhere to offer a ride when there’s no other mode of transportation around.

The movie is predictable and just as CGI-infested as the first one, although there are moments when the effects are truly breathtaking and serve its proper purpose: to visually manifest images that are impossible to fully capture with actors or props. The gnomes are also the most hilarious part of the movie, poking fun at the situations and characters in a way that mirrors the audience’s reaction.

Winter’s War, therefore, is certainly not a filmographic masterpiece, nor is it a movie that one will readily pull from the shelf or pick out from Netflix and say “I want to rewatch this one.” It’s best to think of it as a good movie for a drinking game. It takes itself less seriously than its predecessor, and its moments of glamorous antics are much more forgivable because underneath it all, there are still little moments of thought and humanity that manage to briefly shine through.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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