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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4 Heroes. 4 Movies. 4 Mistakes. 4 Puns.

Fantastic FOur cover
image source: d.gr-assets.com

There have been four attempts to bring Marvel’s first family to life on the big screen. First in 1994, then 2005, 2007, and most recently in 2015.

Whatever grand cosmic meaning might be found in four failed Fantastic 4 movies escapes me, but all of them have sucked.

I’ve heard people say maybe the Fantastic 4 just suck as a concept, or maybe they can’t be translated well into live action, or maybe they’re just too far out to get right. But… no. I’m here today to tell you that isn’t true at all.

The reason that we’ve never seen a good Fantastic 4 movie is because, well, nobody has ever made a real Fantastic 4 movie. Almost none of what made the comics so incredible for so many decades has ever been realized on screen.

Let me elaborate in the form of four major points, because that structure both allows me to argue what I want and also kind of make this whole thing a Fantastic 4 pun, which means this is the best day of my life.

1: We have never actually seen the real Doctor Doom.

In the comics, Victor Von Doom is the iron-fisted dictator of a sovereign island nation called Latveria, and grew up as an orphan living with a band of gypsies. The group he was in stayed on the move to avoid the wrath of the oppressive regime, until, through a combination of inventions and black magic, Victor lead an uprising and seized control.

Because yes, Doctor Doom can do magic.

A once-handsome man, Victor Von Doom’s downfall started when he summoned a portal to hell in order to bring his mother back to life; however, true to comic form, the portal exploded in his face instead, forcing him to seal himself inside a suit of magical armour.

Also in the comics, Victor is a master of science and technology, rivalled only by the mind of his college roommate, Reed Richards. Both studied science that I assume Stan Lee made up on the fly. This all happened in his early twenties, until, after getting his doctorate, Victor was kicked out for unethical practice and sent back to Latveria (where he lead the aforementioned uprising shortly after.)

See? Doctor Doom isn’t even a supervillain name, you guys. Victor has a doctorate. His actual name is just Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom
image source:vignette2.wikia.net/marveldatabase/images

Word play jokes aside, Doctor Doom is arguably one of the greatest supervillains ever put to page. He once took on the Celestials (otherworldly beings of infinite power) and forced Galactus to kneel before him, and became essentially God as the most powerful being in the entire Marvel Universe (twice). He can occasionally do good as well, proving that he actually cares about the people of Latveria, and in one instance he even protects Franklin and Valeria Richards (the children of his worst enemy) from harm.

In fact, Doom has actually saved the world several times, because when all the heroes are sitting around contemplating what to do, Doom just busts open the door with a cry of “DOOM CARES NOT” and that’s that.

None of the details of this incredible character have ever appeared in a movie. In the 2005 movie, Doctor Doom was a seedy business man who gains the power to shoot lightning, and in 2015 he was a… programmer? I guess? Why is Fox so afraid to make Doom the magical science tyrant he truly is? They even have a problem with his name. In each live screen version, they tried to change his name (“Victor Von Damn”, and “Victor Domeshev “, respectively), and then changed it back at the last second.

The ongoing dynamic between Doctor Doom and Mr. Fantastic is probably one of the most interesting relationship in comics, save for that of Professor X and Magneto from the X-Men. Their rivalry and hatred of one another is strangely contrasted by the respect and kinship they try so hard to hide. Despite being morally polar opposites, deep down both Reed and Victor know that the only true equal either one has on the entire planet, maybe the entire universe, is each other. They are the two smartest men in the universe, both of them convinced that they have the right way and authority to save the world. But while Reed gets to be the hero, Doom is the villain.

In the movies we’ve never gotten past “Victor is jealous because Reed is smarter and can make out with Sue”.

If you need more convincing of how great of a character Doctor Doom is, go read the entirety of Jonathon Hickman’s Fantastic 4 run, half his Avengers comics, and his colossal finale Secret War. I promise, it will convince you. Doctor Doom is the number one Marvel supervillain according to Newsarama, and the third greatest comic book villain of all time according to IGN. So why are the studios so afraid to give us the Doom we deserve?

2: Where is Galactus, the devourer of worlds! 

Galactus
image source: cdn1.sciencefiction.com

Does anybody actually remember Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? 

I mean, no, not really. Because that movie was terrible. But it is pretty easy to name both the best and worst thing that movie managed to do. The best? I’ll admit, the Silver Surfer looked damn cool.

This is a character that Jack Kirby created supposedly because he was tired of drawing spaceships. It is the shiny, nearly featureless outline of a man who flies on a surfboard. It’s not such a hard thing to get right and they did. So what was the worst thing?

Probably the evil space cloud. That was not Galactus. Like Doctor Doom, Galactus is a genuinely fascinating and complex character.

The gargantuan planet eater Galactus is the only survivor of the universe that existed before our own. In fact, Galactus essentially is the universe of before, bonded to the last mortal of its existence, and was reborn into the giant purple-hatted being that constantly clashes with the Fantastic 4. But the fascinating thing is that the character of Galactus himself is not actually evil. He is a thinking being that can be reasoned and debated with, as well as a force of nature. Galactus destroys what he feels he must for his own survival, and for what he believes is best for the universe as a whole. He even created the Silver Surfer in order to seek out uninhabited planets that Galactus could eat without committing genocide.

And sure, Galactus often goes back on his word in that respect and tries to destroy the earth. But he is also a being that Reed Richards and the Fantastic 4 have spoken to, and have come to an uneasy alliance with.

So, as opposed to a boring space cloud, imagine superheroes fighting a planet sized alien being with a purple helmet who has existed since before the dawn of time itself.

I mean, maybe it’s just me. But a movie dealing with that character sounds genuinely interesting.

3: Science Fiction Extraordinaire

Silver Surfer
image source: s-media-cache-ako.pinimg.com

Right off the bat, lets skip the origin story.

Over half of the Fantastic 4 movies that have been made have been about the Fantastic 4 getting their powers, and then spending the whole movie trying to get rid of their powers.

That is genuinely the least interesting premise for a Fantastic 4 movie I can possibly conceive of, unless someone were to film Ben Grimm sitting on the toilet for two hours reading a newspaper. Seriously. Most superheroes don’t actually require that much context. That’s why so often the second movie for a superhero character is the better movie (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, The Winter Soldier, and X-Men: United all come to mind).

So why not skip ahead to when the Fantastic 4 are genuinely an interesting family of pure insanity? So many of the classic FF tales are huge science fiction adventures into the depths of the earth, or the depths of space, or occasionally into another dimension entirely!

The early days of the Fantastic 4 were illustrated by Jack “The King” Kirby, who is basically the godfather of comic book art. Kirby’s FF days were punctuated by massive otherworldly images, shapeshifting aliens, mind-bending space battles, and galactic invasions of Earth.

In one comic, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) was once inducted into an inter-dimensional organization called the “Council of Reeds”, which was entirely populated with alternate reality versions of him trying to save the multiverse. Best part? The story culminated with Doom defeating a race of Gods and the Human Torch locking himself in another dimension to fight an endless army of insect monsters. I mean that is… that would make the most wacked-out movie ever, right? And there’s the fun of the Watcher, an alien who lives on the moon and can see everything and has a giant head.

So far, we have seen none of that in the attempts at bringing them to screen, because the studios seem weirdly embarrassed of the more science fiction elements of the Fantastic 4 universe. Really, if you want these characters to work, abandon self-consciousness at the door. Give us the insanity and true scope of science fiction possible with these characters.

We were all happy to watch a talking raccoon with a space gun mourn the death of his talking tree friend.

We can handle it.

4: Family                                                                     

Above all else, the Fantastic 4 are a fundamentally different group dynamic than any other super team in comics. They aren’t the collection of mighty heroes like The Avengers, or the collection of outcasts like X-Men.

The Fantastic 4 are fundamentally a family. So you want to make them stand out from the rest? Make them an actual family. Instead of the painfully awkward romance between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman (who where near strangers), Give us the actual married Reed Richards and Susan Storm. But more than that. Give us their children, the occasionally cosmically-powered Franklin Richards and the super-genius Valeria Richards. Give us The Thing and the Human Torch being referred to as “Uncle Ben” and “Uncle Johnny”. Give us that super uncomfortable kinship between Valeria Richards and Doctor Doom, who see eye to eye on slightly more than her parents might wish.

Because that, more than anything else I’ve mentioned, is what sets the Fantastic 4 apart. This is a story about a real, developed and mature family that behaves as such. Please, someone out there, give us all these things.

Give us the real Galactus and Doctor Doom, and Mole People and shapeshifting aliens, give us the family dynamic and science-fiction insanity that have graced the pages of comic books for over half a century.

Give us the Fantastic 4 movie we deserve!

– Contributed by Ben Ghan

Film Review for I, Frankenstein

i-frankenstein-poster-1In I, Frankenstein, director Stuart Beattie certainly takes an interesting approach to his interpretation of Mary Shelley’s legendary novel, but presentation sadly fails to live up to the ideal. His attempt to develop Frankenstein’s pivotal religious motif by personifying Christianity in a gargoyle’s figure is creative yet unprovocative, and Bill Nighy’s portrayal of the cold, soulless devil Naberius is impressively frightening, but when the film drops his human features in favour of a more hellish visage, it all comes off as rather silly. The actor’s performance is not to blame; the flaw was in computer-generated masks that resemble awkward aliens instead of horrifying devils.

frankenstein
Illustration by Lola Borissenko

The only truly dynamic aspects in I, Frankenstein are the graphic battles between the Divine and Satanic forces which dominate the film. Explosions of smoke and fire from the destroyed demons contrast well with the tender blue light that extends from the gargoyles. However, the story’s content does not match with these powerful scenes of violent turbulence. There is absolutely no tension—either between the characters, or within the plot—with which to drive the action. Aaron Eckhart’s rather cynical portrayal of Adam Frankenstein does manage to cohere with his character’s monstrous self-image, yet lacks the drama that would have made it fun to watch on screen. The monster’s alleged tragedy is underdeveloped, and remains ambiguous even by the end of the film. Furthermore, the role of his female companion, Terra—a talented physiologist whose experiments are meant to correlate with the 19th century fiction—lacks clarity. There seemed to be some suggestion of Adam’s fondness for Terra, yet this extended only to the point where he was prepared to save her from the threatening demons. Although at the end of the film Adam explicitly states that he found his calling as the defender of humanity, it is only the statement itself which makes the audience more or less aware of the film’s implicit meaning. The role of Adam and, indeed, of all the various creatures, is ill-defined to the point where the audience simply cannot recognize their genuine purpose, and by extension the overall point of the film.

Despite numerous allusions to religion and creation, the film’s parallel to Shelley’s novel is rather vague. There is only brief background information on Victor Frankenstein’s role in his creation’s existence, meaning that we are given little context to justify Adam’s suffering. Perhaps Stuart Beattie assumed that viewers were already familiar with the original story and decided to make I Frankenstein its own masterpiece, retaining only the novel’s central ideas and the protagonist. Unfortunately, the movie neither stands on its own as a complete story, nor functions as a coherent continuation of Shelley’s novel. This ambivalence is unfortunate, since I, Frankenstein implies pivotal messages beyond the vigorous action scenes, yet fails to actually display them on the screen.

Contributed by Lola Borissenko