The Huntsman: Winter’s War was always going to have an uphill struggle with critics. Most of them didn’t particularly like the first film, Snow White And The Huntsman, and it was very difficult to see the point of making a follow-up. When Winter’s War arrived, it turned out not that many other people could see the point either, as it didn’t exactly set fire to the box office.
That’s almost a shame though, as the rubbish-ness of the first film is undoubtedly a drag on this movie and something it attempts to get around with only partial success. If this was standalone film without that millstone, and if a few structural issues were sorted out, it would have gotten a much reception.
The movie starts off as a prequel to the earlier movie, introducing us to Freya (Emily Blunt), the sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who turns literal ice queen after the death of her baby. She builds herself a frosty kingdom in the North, as well as an army of Huntsmen to do her bidding, made up of children she’s stolen from villages. That lets us know how Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman/Eric got his job.
The film then jumps to after Snow White and the Huntsman, and Hemsworth is still grieving the death of his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain) at the hands of Freya. He joins up with some dwarves (Rob Brydon and Nick Frost), and sets off on a quest to find the stolen Magic Mirror. Along the way he discovers that perhaps his wife isn’t dead after all, and that the mirror may hold a few secrets.
Winter’s War doesn’t get off to a great start. The prequel side of the movie is essentially a prologue, and like most prologues it tries to tell you things in shorthand. However, it’s got way too much information to impart to do that properly. In fact, the tale it tells could have been a whole movie in its own right, with the seemingly contradictory result that it rushes through the events in a whistle-stop manner, but yet seems to go on forever. Indeed, this prologue takes up about a quarter of the movie, and gets pretty tedious pretty quickly.
It’s a great shame, as once it jumps forward in time, it becomes a much better film. It’s not a masterpiece, but it finds some life and a sense of humour that was sorely lacking in the earlier movie. Emily Blunt turns in a good performance as a woman turned cruel by the death of her child, while Hemsworth is essentially Thor with a wandering Scottish accent (although Jessica Chastain wins the award for being dodgily Scottish, although she’s good in other respects). This latter part of the movie is a pretty fun fantasy adventure, with slightly Willow-esque echoes. Those aren’t the only echoes either, as plenty of people have pointed out that with ice queen Freya it feels like they’ve borrowed more heavily from Frozen than was probably wise.
Winter’s War is one of those movies that feels a bit confused, trying to find a reason to exist and to get around the fact it knows the first movie was severely flawed. Indeed, it’s well aware that it’s a bit odd to have a movie set in the world of Snow White, but without Snow White in it. For about half the time it manages it and it’s a lot better than the cinema reviews might lead you to believe, but the other half can’t hide its flaws. And as it starts out with a half-hour major flaw with its bloated and rather tedious prologue, it does have plenty to overcome. It does a good job of trying to get past those problems in the rest of the movie, and I have to say I enjoyed three-quarters of it quite a lot, but for many the damage will already have been done.
The Blu-ray includes both the Theatrical Cut and an Extended Edition with an extra six minutes, although to be honest the additions don’t make a vast amount of difference. The special features aren’t bad though.
Overall Verdict: The actual main movie is a fun if not exceptional fantasy adventure, which just about gets over its clumsy, bloated opening half-hour and links to the earlier even more flawed Snow White And The Huntsman.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac