by Michael B. Hock
Once upon a time, there was a story called Snow White. It has been told over and over again, each time trying to add something to a story that glossed over the fact that a woman had a magic mirror, but mostly used it to tell that she was prettier than everyone else. Seriously, she could have taken over kingdoms. I digress.. 2012 was one such time when the world was gifted with not one, but two versions of Snow White… a comedic version that played up the fairy tale elements, and another version that mixed in a healthy dose of Xena: Warrior Princess.
Guess which one got the sequel?
The Huntsman: Winter’s War answers all of the burning questions that were left when we last saw Snow White picking up her battle armor and taking down the evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, mostly: What are the gritty origins of the Huntsman, a character that traditionally does not have a name and is billed as “The Huntsman?” Also, how can we bring back Charlize Theron despite the handicap of her being dead? And if we make a movie that’s a sequel to Snow White, do we have to show Snow White or will just a girl with brown hair covering her face do?
All of these questions are answered.
The movie takes place both before and after the events of the previous movie, starting with the origins of the Huntsman, thankfully played by Thor actor and mega-movie draw Chris Hemsworth. You see Raveena, the evil queen from the first movie, has a sister:
Elsa Freya, who has the power to control ice. Because her heart was broken, she decided to round up all of the children in her conquered kingdom so they wouldn’t have their hearts broken, and train them to be her Huntsman, mostly because they’re stuck with that name from the first movie. Eric and Sara (Played by Jessica Chastain, bringing the redhead quotient of this movie up to 2) who fall in love and blah blah blah, loss and death and stuff. The movie then skips forward to after Snow White and the Huntsman defeat Raveena. Snow White is being driven by the magic mirror, so it’s taken away. Eric is tasked with stopping Freya from getting control of her sister’s mirror, and taking up Snow White’s land, and with saying “Snow White” every couple of scenes so we don’t forget it’s a Snow White movie originally. Oh, and he does this along with several wisecracking dwarves, because Snow White.
The one thing I really enjoyed about this movie is the fact that it’s not afraid to be a little bit funny. Chris Hemsworth turns on the charm and spends very little of it brooding, even when a spoiler-y event happens that could easily have derailed everything and made it just a few hours of everyone brooding over how terrible everything is.
I also really enjoyed the fact that despite the fact that it is a sequel to the grimmer version of Snow White we got that year (get it?) this still has a very fairytale like quality to it. Fights are fast and fueled with fantasy, action is unique, there are a lot of fantastical creatures that don’t require long exposition, things just are, and people roll with it. There’s even some interesting fairytale elements in the beginning with Freya’s transformation and the loss of her love, which form her transition into the Ice Queen. A moment where she needs to “Let it Go” as it were.
The problem comes that there’s not much to add onto the original story that we saw, and quite frankly, the removal of Snow White hurts the film itself. We’re told it’s her land, and we’re reminded (constantly) that these two fought to save everyone, but the most we get of her is an extra, shot from the back and far away with her face covered to denote that she is going mad because of the mirror. She’s one of the most important characters in this particular movie, but at the same time, her absence is clearly felt. The addition of the dwarves only further highlights with a wink, “Yes… this happened.. but pay no attention to it.” It was as if everyone wanted a medieval action movie with Chris Hemsworth, but they didn’t want to do any work to create anything new. The whole movie is just… off.
Basically nothing new is added by telling us the Huntsman’s story. We got most of it in the last movie, save for a few twists. It’s not that I didn’t like Chris Hemsworth, and I do enjoy the fact that everyone got the memo to ramp up everything.. the humor, the action, and… did I mention the humor? Seriously that’s the only thing that saved this from being a total slog. But the whole prequel/sequel thing is tricky to pull off, and this just doesn’t work, unfortunately.
Ultimately, it’s a movie that’s pretty enjoyable, but pretty forgettable.