Another day, another ironic adventure movie where the production knows exactly what is going on. Like a Young Adult film, you can make a checklist of all the tropes to expect: ultra violence, lots of CG, stylized aesthetic and action, hammy acting, beautiful women, muscular dudes, and a climax that involves a giant battle. A new trend in Hollywood is to adapt fairy tales through an ironic adventure lens. Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Slayer, and Snow White and the Huntsman are a few recent examples. Capitalizing off the Frozen phenomenon, we now have The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a prequel to Snow White. Was it another ironic adventure in the guise of a fairy tale or does it transcend the banality?
Turns out, Winter’s War is a prequel for the first 15 minutes before becoming a sequel. When the Mirror goes missing after Snow White sent it away Eric, played by Chris Hemsworth, is tasked with the recovery and eventual storage. Things become complicated when his dead wife Sarah, played by Jessica Chastain, returns and his storied past catches up with the present.
Winter’s War proudly wears the fairy tale moniker in every aspect. The theme is love conquers all with Eric and Sarah fighting the conditioning of Emily Blunt’s Freya (how original) who trained the Huntsmen to love no one else but her. Freya turned into a hateful monster after a tragedy and set out to rid the world of love by stealing children and turning them into warriors. A quartet of dwarves that join the heroes experience their own relationship squabbles as comic relief. Later there are fairies, goblins that look like gorillas, a Norse inspired castle with an ice aesthetic, and a forest full of critters that are also part plant.
As a whole, Winter’s War is quite average and inoffensive. It has a goal and unapologetically sets out to accomplish what it wants. The hammy acting, fantasy elements, action, and feverishly romantic story serve their purpose to complete satisfaction. It does everything you expect without breaking the ironic adventure mold, but it is not bad in any profound way. The interplay and comedy of the dwarves made me smile at some points, I kind of liked the characters, and the action was decent. Winter’s War is harmless, you do not lose or gain anything, and it provides an acceptable measure of entertainment.
The cast seemed to enjoy themselves. Hemsworth and Chastain had relatively good chemistry with a couple moments here and there. She did fairly well in an action role, something I have not seen, and I think there is potential. The only problem is Chastain cannot do a Scottish accent to save her life. Nick Frost proved he could hold his own without Simon Pegg as the dwarf Nion. Emily Blunt did not go far enough to enjoy herself, playing Freya like a depressed housewife void of charisma. Charlize Theron, returning to the role of Ravenna, played the part with a tempered crazy that rose in intensity as her screen time went on. She makes me want to watch Snow White to see her performance.
What I found lacking was the subplot of Freya’s contention with Ravenna. As close siblings the former was smart and the latter had cunning. Jealous of her looks and personality, Ravenna killed Freya’s newborn baby, triggering her ice powers. She then leaves the south and conquers the north. In the main story, Freya retrieves the Mirror and resurrects Ravenna. The problem with that is Freya apparently had no idea her sister was in the Mirror. Why she wanted it is never brought up. It was not for power because she was ready to march on the south beforehand. She also did not think to consider Ravenna was behind her baby’s murder.
A good solution would have involved making the movie a straight prequel. What if Freya knew all along that Ravenna killed her baby? What if she left the south to build an army and march on her sister by claiming the north out of revenge? You could keep the anti-love idea because it was Freya trying to rekindle that motherhood by adopting and forcing children to love only her. You could also keep the Eric/Sarah plot where they maintain their bond in the midst of war. Sarah would die because of Freya’s obsession, leading Eric to switch sides, help win the war for the south, and end with a lead into Snow White.
The promotion for The Huntsman: Winter’s War made no bones about what it was, going so far as to spoil the entire plot in trailers. It knows what it is and trusts prospective viewers to understand the intent in the most honest way possible. If you know what you are getting into, you will not be surprised. If you have never seen an ironic adventure, you might enjoy yourself. The most important takeaway is the movie will not make you angry.