No one was clamoring for a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, but we get one anyway. Four years later we’ve seen the star and director of the original dismissed, and the sequel no one asked for is now the pre/sequel no one is going to see. While it’s certainly not as bad as the RottenTomatoes score would suggest — currently sitting at 19 percent rotten — it’s definitely nothing to cheer about either. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan — frequent Gore Verbinski collaborator — has been brought in to try and keep the public’s interest despite the first film’s not so great box office take (only $155 million stateside) and a scatterbrained screenplay. As it stands, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a hodgepodge of a film suffering from an identity crisis.
Word has it that originally Huntsman was supposed to be an outright sequel. With the dismissal of Kristen Stewart, we jump back in time and are introduced to the conniving Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who has just killed the king and taken over yet another kingdom. Her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) finds out she’s pregnant, fathered by a man who’s already promised to another, but is convinced she will wind up with him since she’s having his child. Turns out, the man doesn’t take kindly to the the birth and kills it in a fire. Enraged, Freya discovers her evil powers revealing herself to be the mythical Ice Queen and kills the father.
Now, Freya has decided that since she cannot raise a child, she’ll raise an army instead and begins capturing children to train them into ruthless killers. Her one rule is that love is a sin and you will be killed if you fall under its spell. Two of her child warriors — Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) — have, of course, fallen in love and plan an escape. But just wouldn’t you know it, Freya finds out and has Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and he’s cast out onto his own.
Cut to seven years later and Snow White has defeated the evil Ravenna in the first film and has the precious gold mirror disposed of to keep it from causing anymore harm. But the mirror winds up missing, and now Eric the Huntsman — along with dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) — and the not dead Sara, must find the mirror and defeat Freya. And oh holy moly does this movie have way too much going on for how boring it all is.
The prologue section sets things up with a rocky start while the middle of the film finds some legs and gets a lot of mileage out of some decent adventure sequences and much needed humor. Unfortunately, by the time the finale rolls in, and spoiler alert, Ravenna makes a return, the film has run its course and it becomes harder and harder to stay awake. Let alone care about anything happening on screen. You really have to give it up for Hemsworth & Co for keeping the middle section feeling so brisk, but my god, Theron and Blunt give such wooden and bored performances. You can practically smell the exhaust from the truck that dumped its load of money on their lawns to convince them to star in this.
Nicolas-Troyan does what he can with the screenplay — credited to Evan Spiliotopoulos (Disney direct-to-video extraordinaire) and Craig Mazin (“comedy” extraordinaire: Rocketman, Senseless, Scary Movies 3 and 4, Superhero Movie, The Hangover Parts II and III, and Identity Thief) — but it’s all for naught. The film is never thrilling enough, funny enough, although oddly dark enough, to satisfy even one demographic. It’s too violent for kids and never violent enough for adults. In a fight for its place among unnecessary pre/sequels, it’s never horrible, but it’s never really good either. And you always have a sense of déjà vu that you’ve seen almost every scene somewhere else. Whether it’s the precious mirror and its mind control, or the sight of a merry band of travelers floating down a river, it’s too familiar.
For those already interested, the audience I saw it with made it sound like there’s enough to warrant at least a matinee viewing, but don’t be surprised if you walk out at least mildly disappointed. You don’t even get a full shot of Hemsworth shirtless while canoodling in a hot spring. If the thought of that was enough to pique your interest, as I said, they can’t even get that right