I don’t think anyone actually expected The Huntsman: Winter’s War to be good, and it isn’t, so I’m not going to demand anyone spend money on this movie. But if you’re the curious type and/or you remember the charmingly bad sword-and-sorcery movies of yesterday, like Willow and Legend—or the better but still f*cking weird entries into the genre, like The Last Unicorn—then The Huntsman: Winter’s War offers a sort of nostalgia-infused trip back to a time when Hollywood liked making movies with magic and beasties, and was also doing copious amounts of blow in the bathroom.
The movie begins with narration provided, inexplicably, by Liam Neeson. The purpose of the narration is to connect Huntsman to Snow White and the Huntsman, and then take us into the past, so Huntsman is a prequel. We go back in time and learn that the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) had a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who was too in love to be evil, or something. So Ravenna does a Very Bad Thing in order to wake up the magic inside Freya, and the result is that Freya turns into Evil Elsa and promptly goes north to found her ice kingdom where she kidnaps children and makes them be her child soldiers.
Her best child soldiers—or “huntsmen”, even though they don’t hunt and aren’t all men—are Eric and Sara, and props to the casting department for finding a couple kids who actually look like they could grow up to be Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. Which is what they do, and we learn that the Huntsman’s name is Eric, and he’s in love with ginger Sara. They have a terrible plan to run away together that does not work out because at this point the movie decides it wants to be a sequel instead so we need to jump seven years into the future.
In the future, Snow White is queen and married to Sam Claflin but the magic mirror is driving her crazy, so she sent it to be thrown away in the magic forest, except it got stolen while in transit, and Eric is dispatched to find the mirror. And this is where Huntsman gets weird-bad in a kind of fun way. Eric hooks up with a couple dwarves (Nick Frost, returning from Snow White, and Rob Brydon, a new addition), and they set off, gallivanting across the magic kingdom looking for the mirror. And it’s fun! Hemsworth is loose and affable as Eric, and he’s got good comedic chemistry with Brydon and Frost. This portion of the movie is actually quite enjoyable.
In short order they encounter not-so-dead Sara and now there’s the added dynamic of Eric and Sara working out their sh*t while searching for the mirror, and it’s still pretty fun. Don’t get me wrong—it’s stupid as sh*t and not at all difficult to figure out what’s really going on. But there’s just enough energy and action to keep things moving in a mostly entertaining way.
And my god is this movie gorgeous to look at. Colleen Atwood’s costumes are STUNNING, and the production design from Dominic Watkins benefits from Huntsman having a lighter, less dour tone than Snow White. And director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, promoted from VFX supervisor on Snow White, creates some decent shots and handles the action well. And if you like ponies, there are some really pretty ones in the first half of the movie. Aesthetically there’s something for everyone.
But it can’t maintain the momentum and Huntsman falls apart in act three. The ensemble is split up so you lose the fun banter, and the big showdown between Freya and Ravenna is mostly just Blunt and Theron pointing at each other while CGI happens around them. And Freya only rides her polar bear once, which is a waste of weirdness. The whole movie should have been Freya on a polar bear.
That’s the biggest problem with Huntsman—it’s not weird enough. If you’re going to make a movie where a lady rides a polar bear, just go whole hog and have a lady riding a polar bear all the time. The movie flirts with being a camp classic but ultimately it doesn’t push hard enough to become true camp. Instead it settles for being a half-baked movie made for no real reason, and one that, despite the obvious skill of the craftspeople who worked on it, never really justifies its own existence. Huntsman feels like a movie that resulted from a three-day bender—it probably sounded like a good idea at one point, but no one can remember exactly why.
Attached - The Hunstman cast on James Corden last night.