September 13th, 2017


Movie Critique #330: The Huntsman: Winter's War

Stars:  2.5 / 5
Recommendation:  A lot of confusion while showing the lives of two queens before and after whilst the huntsmen are lost in translation - a couch movie rather than a theater visit.

When Fairy Tales originally were made into cartoons and movies, Disney and other production companies had removed the grim parts of the stories and made them lovable and happily ever after themed. I remember the first time I watched the 2010 American fantasy film Alice in Wonderland. It stumped me that Alice is so grown up and that the mad hatter is prettier than I remember and the Red Queen still is cruel and that the whole wonderland was waiting for the return of Alice. The viewer is given entry into the Wonderland after the original walk into it by Alice, a different perspective on everything that Alice sees the first time around. It first created confusion then later as the plot submerged into my brain, I loved the idea of knowing what the characters go through after The End.

Ofcourse there have been a few movies made prior to this 2010 movie that were based on fairy tales but nothing that was made in this large scale as this one - Alice in Wonderland - that certainly became a trend-setter. And we have been seeing a lot of movies and books being made based of fairy tales and fantasy novels written by Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm and many other famous authors from the past who had originally written them - showing the darker grim side of Happily Ever After. And so here comes another of such movie released in 2016.

The Huntsman: Winter's War is an America fantasy film based on the characters from the German fairy tale "Snow White" written by Brothers Grimm and "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen. This was a prequel / sequel to the 2012 American film Snow White and the Huntsman. Although this film has not been as successful as the first one. The basic plot combines both the books with showing the viewer the story before Snow White and after.

The Before: Queen Ravenna, the evil sorceress, takes over the next kingdom she had in mind and rules it the same way she had conquered the previous with her sister Freya by her side. Freya also forms her own kingdom in a cold ice wasteland later, forming her own army - her huntsman. And her best huntsmen are Eric (portrayed by Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (portrayed by Jessica Chastain) who fall in love against the rules of Freya. How will it end for Eric and Sara? What will the Ice Queen do when she realizes that her best huntsmen have fallen in love with each other?

The After: The plot shifts to a year after the Evil Queen Ravenna is vanquished by Snow White. Eric is tasked by William - Snow White's husband - to find the Magic Mirror that was enroute to Sanctuary and disappeared. He is accompanied by Nion - one of Snow White's dwarf ally - and his half-brother Gryff in this search. But the Ice Queen is hot on their trail to acquire the Magic Mirror so she can increase her power. Will Eric and his gang fight the Ice Queen to keep from taking the Mirror? What is the fate of the Mirror in the end? And of the Huntsmen?

Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna - the evil snow queen - had given a much better performance and justice to the character than Julia Roberts in the similar role in an earlier movie Mirror Mirror released in 2012 (around the same time as the first installment of this series). But did you know that the evil queen's name was Ravenna? I always remembered her as Evil Queen. It is true then, evil also has a name.

We are also introduced to Freya (portrayed by Emily Blunt), the Ice Queen, who is the sister to Queen Ravenna, the Evil Queen. She is based on the Snow Queen from Hans Christian Andersen's book.  And primarily the story revolves around her although Queen Ravenna has a key part too. Emily Blunt however failed to come across as cruel and icy she has to be. She looked more like a frozen doll than an Ice Queen.

Chris Hemsworth reprises the role of Eric and lives it perfectly. As a huntsman he is suited aptly. Jessica Chastain as Sara is better at being a huntsman than Kristen Stewart as Snow White who tried to become a warrior in the first movie. But there is serious lack of chemistry between Chris and Jessica, and at times it felt pale or plastic. That spark that they show as huntsmen is missing when they are shown as lovers.

I have to say though I didn’t like Kristen Stewart cast as Snow White in the first film. For some reason she comes across as whiny and moody and bit off rather than an appealing actor no matter whether she is Bella Swan or Snow White. And I was super glad not to see her in this follow-up prequel / sequel. Although we see a brief glimpse of her in the opening credits when the narrator (voice by Liam Neeson) talks about the first part as well as in some archival footage through the movie.

The costumes are very rich. Locations are supremely stunning. The cinematography is excellent. Language is although English the pronunciation of the words is almost 17th century or older. However there are several editing issues. Snow White is talked of so much but is hardly shown except in archival footage. There are seen some dwarfs other than Snow White's seven dwarfs who help Eric, but no history or background on who they are and why they help Eric and his gang. There are a few disconnects in the plot and several unnecessary scenes that wouldn't have hurt the plot if removed either.

The title of the movie is "The Huntsman: Winter's War", but the viewer has more view into the worlds of two queens who are consumed by their own power and greed to rule the world in their own way for their own personal revenge. And very less of the huntsman and their lives. May be that was the reason for the failure. The title misleads the viewer and expectations are different. The War is also less depicted than anticipated. It ends up being another regular story about two sisters vying for power and nothing about the Huntsman. Perhaps the director used all of the plot that he had in just one film rather than making them two movies - one showing the story before Snow White story happens and one showing the story after Snow White story happens. That would have been a better approach to this film. Now it makes me wonder what would the third film in the series be about specially the director did end with a hint of that happening and used up all of his story in here.

All in all it is a good movie to watch sitting down on your couch at home rather than spending time in the theater.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories is a similar kind of series that has a different take on traditional fairy tales where the real world and fairy tale world collide. I have written reviews of the first four books in this series. You can find those reviews here.

2) One of the other movies made recently is about the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Only this time the story is before the Wizard of Oz is set. It has fabulous settings like any but the film failed to be a hit. My review on the film is here.

3) Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is another series that I have been meaning to read for a while. They are all based on famous fairy tales - Cinderella, Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. After watching this movie, I am thinking of reading this series as well.