I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Once upon a time, there was a movie that tried to put a new spin on the Brothers Grimm classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. That movie, known as SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, told of her tale of survival against the Evil Queen but was further aided by a dashing huntsman to defeat the darkness, and return Snow White to her kingdom to rule. The movie was mired by a dull atmosphere and script, and it overshadowed the stark visuals and grandeur of the Evil Queen Raveena, played with robust camp by Charlize Theron.
Now, it doesn’t matter that there were problems in the adaptation, for you see, in the magical land of Hollywood, you will get a second chance if your movie grosses over $400 million worldwide. So, with this second chance, knowing that the visuals were what stood out in its predecessor, the producers hired its visual effects supervisor, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, to direct the sequel, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR. Now that they retained the continuity of its visuals, could they correct the flaws in terms of storytelling and mood, which is essential for any fairy tale?
The movie opens with a backstory taking place pre-Snow White regarding Raveena and her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt). The former wants her sister to realize her powerful capability, while Freya wishes to realize her love affair that has culminated in the birth of a daughter. Tragedy then strikes for Freya, causing her to unleash a power so great that she becomes forever known as The Ice Queen. In her mourning, Freya raises a kingdom by kidnapping children and slaughtering their parents. She trains the children to become her soldiers, with two standing out above the rest: Eric and Sara.
Years pass, they become adults, and Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall out of favor with the Ice Queen as they become romantic; Freya deceives them into a life of solitude. Several years pass, the events of Snow White happen, and Eric, now the titular Huntsman, is called on to help rid the world of the magic mirror, more evil than ever. Freya catches wind of the mirror’s existence and a race begins for The Huntsman, whose past and present collide to make him the hero yet again.
First of all, let’s get to the good stuff. The visuals of HUNTSMAN are, once again, a feast for the eyes. As the movie plays, the contrasts in settings help make for a marriage between mood and character on screen; for example, a steamy spring to mark a dalliance, or the darkness to enhance Raveena’s personality. This is in fact the directing debut of Nicolas-Troyan, and his eye for visual effects help present more a more realistic look to a fantastic world. Coupled with acclaimed cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (NEBRASKA, 3:10 TO YUMA, WALK THE LINE), the look of the movie is even better than its predecessor.
Furthermore, the dynamic cast is certainly that with regard to the characters they play. Blunt’s Freya is withdrawn and marred by loss, so she is portrayed as emotionally dead. Hemsworth’s Huntsman has a little bit more room to roam with his personality than the last movie, but only to keep the hope of his love alive. And Theron is back at it again, playing Raveena with gusto and vengeance. Also, thrown into the mix is a quartet of dwarves (Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach) to add a levity/comic relief element.
But while the visuals help complement a mood on-screen, the actual story brings a great conflict to the reception of that mood. It kept flowing between tones so much that it didn’t give the story any real impact. The way Eric and his band of misfits act on their journey, you wouldn’t think that the world is in any real eminent danger. It never finds its footing on what kind of movie it wants to be, going from fairy tale to serious drama to road movie to action movie; there isn’t a connective tissue to make it all blend together.
The script, penned by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, does a disservice to HUNTSMAN by getting the movie started on some very shaky ground. For one, it starts revolving around Raveena and Freya, but makes no mention of her beloved brother from SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Apparently they were trying to make a different universe altogether? Furthermore, the prologue/backstory of Raveena/Freya/Eric/Sara goes on for 20-30 minutes, and is constantly interrupted with grating voiceover by a disembodied storyteller, portrayed by Liam Neeson. That’s how you want to start this movie? By turning the audience against Liam Neeson?!
All of what works against the flow of the movie, the tone/mood/script, are actually aided by a misguided ad campaign. The ads/trailers that were passed around for consumption see the movie as a war between Raveena and Freya, a fractured relationship where Freya has trained an army for an all-out assault against the powerful Evil Queen. That’s not what this movie is though, as it’s more a fairy tale for The Huntsman. There is a foundation set for confusion before the first frame ever happens.
At any rate, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR is great to watch as long as you are looking for the entertainment value. It hits marks as much as it misses others, but it would be surprising to see the movie-going public having a good time, and keep this franchise afloat, monetarily ever after.
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR is in theaters nationwide this weekend.