'The Huntsman: Winter's War'
We all know that big-budget blockbusters are products that exist purely for commercial gain, but only a special few of these productions are so cynically and superficially produced as to be insulting. ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ is one of the most irritating examples of lazy blockbusterdom in recent memory.
The movie is a ‘Snow White’ sequel without Snow White, since Kristen Stewart clearly had no interest in returning for a second round. Chris Hemsworth, however, was contractually bound to appear in a sequel, so the studio went ahead and built one around him. Why? To make money, of course. Did anyone have any reason to make this movie happen beyond that? Absolutely not. In fact, the confused desperation of the screenplay is matched in intensity only by the visible disinterest of every actor involved. You’d feel bad for the talented performers who are clearly struggling to make it through their scenes while embarrassing themselves as little as possible were it not for the fact that everyone was clearly well paid for the effort.
Things kick off with a prologue set before the events of ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’. It spins a tale about Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), the kinder sister to Charlize Theron’s villainess Ravenna. Heartbreak forced her to flee to the countryside where her cold heart developed physical ice powers and she created a kingdom dedicated to a lack of love. Sounds like ‘Frozen’, right? Well, that’s because it is. While the screenwriters and producers were bashing their heads against the wall struggling to make a ‘Snow White’ sequel without the title character, they just decided to do an unofficial ‘Frozen’ rip-off instead. No songs, though, because this is an action blockbuster franchise. While the last one turned ‘Snow White’ into ‘Lord of the Rings’ for inexplicable reasons (beyond profit), this one awkwardly combines ‘Frozen’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. But it’s still PG-13, so there’s no nudity or gore – just steamy leg shots, innuendo and awkwardly staged sword fights.
Anyhoo, the two greatest warriors fostered in Freya’s loveless kingdom are the Huntspeople Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). Hemsworth flashes a series of Thor smiles and Thor scowls while trying to pretend his character has anything resembling an interior life. He also busts out that horrible Scottish accent from last movie again and it hasn’t improved over the years. However, this time I wondered if the bad accent was deliberate. It makes it difficult for viewers to discern the garbage dialogue, which might actually help the movie since everyone gets to play Mad Libs and pretend Hemsworth is saying something worthwhile.
Chastain also adopts a Scottish accent and somehow it’s even worse than Hemsworth’s. It’s a confusing performance to watch given that she’s typically a fantastic actress, but you’d never guess that from her wooden and forgettable work here. On the plus side, at least Chastain got a nice big paycheck that she’ll hopefully use to subsidize the next handful of indies she gets made by lending her name.
Predictably, the warriors fall in love, which enrages Freya so much that banishment, imprisonment and staged murder follow. Then the movie lurches forward in time to take place after the last movie, making it both prequel and sequel. Before you can even voice your disgust over that dumb writing decision, Eric and Sara are reunited, though in a combatively flirty way this time. Eric has also teamed up with a pair of British dwarves played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, whose stunt casting is far funnier than anything that they say or do. The magic mirror from the last movie pops up as a MacGuffin that everyone fights over. After a long series of traveling sequences and poorly executed comedic interludes, all of our heroes and villains (including Theron, who vamps it up for so little screen time that she couldn’t have worked on the film for longer than a week) get together in a room for a final battle that also preaches a message about the importance of love.
Yeesh, what a load of garbage.
Taking over directing duties this time is Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, a long-time visual effects artist and Second Unit director. You can sure tell, given that he delivers a personality-free aesthetic, some pretty effects, and virtually no sense of tempo or storytelling. Granted, the first-timer was hampered by a screenplay that would get a failing grade in a middle school creative writing workshop and a star studded cast who appear to be thinking about what they’ll spend their wages on rather than acting in most scenes. So it’s not like he had many passionate people helping him along, nor does it seem like even he was passionate about the sequel.
‘The Huntsman’ was clearly an assignment for all involved, not a movie anyone wanted to make or even a job that they took seriously. It’s almost insulting to project this movie in front of paying audiences. Watching two hours of these actors and filmmakers counting their money without acknowledging the camera would have been roughly as exciting and infinitely more honest. After all, we’re talking about a flick that could easily have been 45 minutes long simply by removing all the shots of actors staring off camera out of fear, love, anger, betrayal, confusion or thoughtfulness. However, I suppose if all you need in a movie are famous actors in pretty costumes and expensive sets furrowing their brows as they attempt to remember their next lines, then ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ is for you. Everyone else may as well just stay at home and stare at the floor for two hours. It’ll be roughly as entertaining, enlightening and satisfying.