Movie review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just came back from watching The Huntsman: Winter’s War film, so without further ado, let’s talk about it!

To begin with, I was (and still am) surprised that this movie even exists. The first movie was financially profitable, but I didn’t think that it earned enough money to establish a franchise. The critical reception was also so-so (48% on Rotten Tomatoes). Also, that scandal with Kristen Stewart and the director of Snow White and the Huntsman – Rupert Sanders – really overshadowed the movie itself. Basically, I did not expect to see a sequel/prequel and, moreover, I don’t really think that anybody asked for one.

I have the same problem (the fact that they are not needed or asked for) with all the retellings of the fairy-tale movies. In addition, I still question the choice to retell them in such a dark and grim fashion, when the majority of cinema goers are more familiar with and are fans of the children-friendly Disney versions. Having said that, I do applaud the filmmakers for following their artistic vision and for putting a new spin on a well-known property. Also, a lot of these stories are very adult and dark at their core – just read the original versions of all the popular fairytales (we actually even studied them in English literature class during the last term at university), so portraying them in a darker tone is in line with the original tone of the stories. However, when going to see a fairy-tale based/inspired film, I usually want to escape the grim reality of life. Let’s be honest – we have enough of dark and inhumane stuff happening in the real world, we don’t need more of it in movies. So, on the whole, I have very mixed feelings about these fairy-tale movie remakes.

In addition, Snow-White’s story is a tale, which I have a strong personal connection with because I grew up reading it . I still have the actual copy of the book that I used to read the story from – it is on a shelve in my room, in my parent’s house back in Lithuania with all my other most prized possessions a.k.a. other books. On that same shelve, one would be able to find a book entitled Princesses’ Fairytales by Nicola Baxter – basically, I was a hardcore fan of stories about princesses even before I ever saw my first movie, be it a film about princesses or just a random animated feature

Speaking about other films, based on fairy tales, here is my review of 2015’s live-action Cinderella (that post is more of a personal study of feminism). Later this year, a few other fairy-tale inspired live-action films will hit cinemas: one sequel  – Alice Through The Looking Glass and two new remakes – The Jungle Book and The Legend of Tarzan. 

Lastly, before I went to see this film, I did not rewatch neither the 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman nor the Mirror Mirror version from the same year. However, I revisited the original animated picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from 1937 (the first feature length animated picture by Disney), and I gotta say, it still holds up. The hand painted 2D animation is refreshing and nostalgia-inducing in a world of 3D computer generated graphics. The songs are still pleasant (but a bit annoying, though), while the story is just a right balance of silly and sweet to be enjoyable. A must watch for any fans of animation from any generation.

So, I have given you a lot of context for this movie (maybe too much). Nevertheless, I will try my best to treat The Hunstman: Winter’s War as a separate entity and to judge it on its own. Let’s try that!

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary:  As two evil sisters prepare to conquer the land; two renegades – Eric the Huntsman – who previously aided Snow White in defeating Ravenna, and his forbidden lover, Sara set out to stop them.

Writing

The film’s script was written by a quite unusual duo of screenwriters: Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Mazin has written scripts for movies like Scary Movie (3 and 4) and The Hangover (Part 2 and 3)Spiliotopoulos has mainly worked on Disney’s direct-to-video animated features, but he has also written 2014’s Hercules (not the best film) and is writing a screenplay for 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. So, The Huntsman was a union of raunchy comedy (by Mazin) and more traditional animated storytelling (by Spiliotopoulos). The question is: was this ‘union’ successful? Somewhat, yes and no. 

First of all, the film was both a prequel and a sequel. It opened with  a short recap of the first film – really good idea because I don’t think that a lot of people remember what happened in the first film. The opening also kinda set up The Huntsman to be a total prequel – ‘a story that happened long before the happily ever after’. However, the prequel plot ended after the first 25 minutes. Then, the movie time jumped 7 years and told us that the events that happened in Snow White and the Huntsman occurred in that 7 years span. The rest 1 hour and 20 minutes were a continuation and an expansion of that story – a sequel.

  • Continuation

The Hunstman had two storylines/ideas that were very reminiscent of the first film:

  1. In the 2012’s Snow White, the Huntsman was mourning his dead wife – this film shows how they met and how she ‘died’.
  2. In the first film, Queen Ravenna feared that Snow White will grow up to be more beautiful than she. In this film, she was fearful of her sister’s daughter for the same reason.
  3. A few people from the first film also cameoed in the sequel: most notably, Sam Claflin as King William, Snow White’s husband and Snow White herself – at least her back – played by someone who was definitely not Kristen Stewart.
  • Expansion

The world of this series was expanded quite a bit. The film gave us the backstory of the Huntsman and added a few new characters, including a new villain/anti-hero –  Ravenna’s sister Freya, the Ice Queen with the frozen heart (literally). Her whole power set was very similar to that of Elsa’s in Frozen. The sibling relationship between sisters was also another aspect, which made this film seem like a live-action Frozen remake. However, the ‘end-game’ of the sisterly relationship in The Huntsman was completely different from the loving reconciliation between Anna and Elsa in Frozen.

Writing: – | + | –

The film was mostly predictable. It was easy to guess that the death of the Huntsman’s wife was only an illusion and that Freya’s baby daughter was killed by her sister/the baby’s aunt. The only thing that I didn’t predict but should have was that whole supposed betrayal by the wife. However, in the end, it turned out to be double-crossing and not a true betrayal (that part I did predict once again).

The movie’s narrative appealed to me because I am a fan of high fantasy worlds and adventure stories that happen in these worlds, like Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones. I also can’t help but notice that all fantastical stories are usually set in medieval/historic times. Well, I guess medieval history is a bit mysterious, and the leap from mystery to magic is relatively small.

On the other hand, the film annoyed me a few times. First with the addition of the dwarves, who sounded very Scottish by the way. The comic relief that these characters provided was stupid and unnecessary. Also, that whole thing with competing genders wasn’t pleasant either. Lastly, that whole pairing up of the characters was also a cheap conclusion. Nevertheless, the overarching theme of the film was love (the most overdone topic of all), so maybe the pairing up did work. Maybe I just hate love. Am I secretly Freya, or even worse – her sister Ravenna? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Directing 

Because of the aforementioned scandal, Sanders did not return to direct the sequel/prequel film. He was replaced by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan – the visual effects supervisor of the first film, who was also the director of the second unit. He also was the second unit director on Maleficient.  So, The Huntsman was the French director’s directorial debut (well, full one). I think that he did quite a good job with the film. The fighting scenes were exciting and interesting. The slower ‘talking’ scenes were also nice. Sanders combined close-ups of the actors’ faces with quite wide establishing and scenic shots. The sets, which were showed in those wider shots, were absolutely gorgeous – both the physical and the CGI ones. The costumes were also wonderful – the character design was impeccable and all actors, especially the two queens, looks breathtaking from head to toe. The liquid gold of the mirror was my favorite visual from the first film and it continued to be my favorite visual in the second film as well. The end credits were also very beautiful, paired nicely with the main theme song  – Castle by Halsey .

Acting

Winter’s War had a very start studded cast, led by the four(!) leads in the main roles:

  • Chris Hemsworth as Eric, the Huntsman. Hemsworth was really good in the role, especially in the fight scenes. I kinda feel that Snow White and The Huntsman is a backup franchise for Hemsworth if MCU doesn’t work out (small chance of that happening). Nevertheless, Hemsworth also stars in other pictures – I recently watched 2013’s Rush, in which he was really good. I also have reviewed his In The Heart of The Sea a few months ago. His other 2015 film Blackhat is also a not bad B picture and he was also in the first 10 minutes of 2009’s Star Trek. Going forward, later this year, Chris will be in Ghostbusters.
  • Jessica Chastain  was also really good in her role of  Sara, the Warrior. I loved the fact that she was an archer (who never misses) because I enjoy archery in my free time. Her back and forth bickering with Hemsworth was also good – they definitely had chemistry. I have only seen the most recent Chastain’s films, like Interstellar, The Martian and Crimson Peak. I also want to watch Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year, in which she stars.
  • Emily Blunt as Freya, the Ice Queen was a believable villain (well, sort of a villain). Her backstory was a bit cliche, but Blunt embraced the flawed writing and gave a great performance. She first appeared on my radar with 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, but her best roles have come in the past few years, namely in Edge if Tomorrow, Sicario and my ultimate guilty pleasure film – Into The Woods. I am really excited to continue following her career in the near and far future.
  • Charlize Theron as Ravenna, the Evil Queen. Theron did not have that big of a role in this film. She mainly appeared in the first and last acts of the picture. Theron did a nice job, but her character’s power (tar tentacles?) was a bit weird. If you want to see a different film, in which Theron plays a bad-ass, just watch Mad Max Fury Road. I also recently checked out Prometheus (because I will be traveling to the filming locations of that picture’s opening sequence – Isle of Skye) – she is great in that film as well. Lastly, Theron is listed to be in next year’s Fast 8 – that should be interesting.
  • Other cast members included Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith as the dwarves who annoyed me. Sam Claflin (Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2; Love, Rosie) also had a cameo. BTW, I am really excited for Claflin’s next film Me Before You. In addition, Testament of Youth’s Colin Morgan had a minor role as well.

To sum up, The Huntsman: Winter’s War was a perfectly enjoyable fantasy and adventure picture. The story was a bit cliche and predictable, but it nicely expanded the original narrative of the first film. The visuals were breathtaking while the acting was also believable. It is not a must-see for the majority of cinema goers, but casual fans of the high-fantasy genre should enjoy it. However, really die-hard fantasy fans might find it too generic. Lastly, I kinda feel that if this film is even slightly profitable, Universal will make another, so you might want to watch this one so as to prepare for the future movies.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Hunstman: Winter’s War trailer

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