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The Huntsman: Winter’s War (PG-13)


04/28/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



 Snow White gets jettisoned in favor of another snazzy-dressing queen with magical powers in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a movie that offers some fascinating innovation to the business of turning a movie into a franchise.

I had forgotten that the first movie was actually called Snow White and the Huntsman — not just The Huntsman or The Evil Queen and the Huntsman — so minor to the story were Kristen Stewart and her mopey Snow White character. Here, we get a prequel/sequel combo that cuts out this weakest link and puts Thor Huntsman Chris Hemsworth squarely in the center.
Once upon a time before that first movie, the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) had a sister retconned into her backstory, Freya (Emily Blunt). Freya tags along as Ravenna black widows her way to queenly domination until in one kingdom Freya meets somebody. This nobleman is sweet on Freya as well and has the only minor impediment of having an arranged engagement that will have to be dealt with for the couple to be together. Freya has the nobleman’s baby and she thinks they will be able to run off together and be a family. Instead, she finds him, holding a torch, in their baby daughter’s room after the crib and their baby go up in flames. In her rage and grief, Freya unleashes a heretofore unknown ability to control and create ice. 
As with Elsa in Frozen — though with this even darker history and no Broadway-worthy musical numbers — Freya goes off into the mountains to build herself an ice castle and wear some ice-themed couture. She also decides to kidnap children and train them to be elite members of her deadly army that eschews all things that reek of love or family. So — child soldiers, she creates child soldiers. And arguably this is the “good” sister.
Two of those child soldiers grow up to be Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are the baddest of the bad-asses. Naturally, they are also in love with each other and after “marrying” each other in, essentially, a hot tub (it’s more romantic than it sounds but basically that’s the gist), they decide to run away together. The love-hating Freya finds out, however, and sends their peers in to fight them. In the end, Eric finds himself going from newlywed to widower and chucked off a cliff and left for dead.
Then, narration explains to us that time passes and all the stuff in Snow White and the Huntsman happens. Ravenna is defeated, Snow White is queen and in the north Queen Freya has gobbled up all the other kingdoms. Now, William (Sam Claflin), the half-hearted Snow White love interest from the first movie who apparently has married her or something, comes to find Eric to ask him to go on a quest for Snow White. Ravenna’s creepy gold “mirror” (which is not terribly reflective and really more of a giant serving platter) has been “talking” to Snow White and she tried to send it away where it couldn’t convince her to smoke and shoplift or whatever bad behavior it was trying to tempt the college-age queen into. Along the way, the mirror was stolen and now Eric is tasked with finding it before it falls into the hands of Freya, who could use it to become unstoppably powerful.
How? I’m not really sure. I don’t think the movie is really sure. As Linda Holmes on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour has put it when talking about movies like this (see also Thor, The Avengers,  Transformers), there’s a box, everybody wants the box. Here, there’s a mirror, everybody wants the mirror. The movie doesn’t let the “why” of this get in the way too much. 
Joining Eric in his quest is Nion (Nick Frost), one of the seven dwarves from the last movie, and Gryff (Rob Byron), who bring the trip’s supply of comic relief. When they need a refill on same, lady dwarves Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) show up. 
I think this is the first movie I’ve seen that’s played its second entry in quite this way. It basically turns the first movie into a less important middle chapter and refocuses the story so that different characters take the lead. Potentially, it could create a sort of anthology franchise, where characters in the same universe have adventures without always bringing back exactly the same cast — sort of like the Marvel universe but with even more malleable source material. And because you’re not dealing with direct sequels, you could also have characters die or have their stories resolved in one or two movies without having one of those four-movie trilogy type setups where the second to last movie feels like padding. None of this is particularly germane to your enjoyment or not of this movie but I had fun thinking about it. 
Because of the way the story is built and the heavy-handed application of narration, you don’t need to have seen Snow White and The Huntsman to get this movie. And, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen that one, I get the general sense that The Huntsman: Winter’s War is overall more enjoyable. The queen-on-queen match-up is better — Emily Blunt is a better foil for Charlize Theron than Kristen Stewart. The first movie was rather light on romance to the point where I wasn’t sure if it wanted one or not — it seemed to offer up both the Huntsman and childhood friend William as possible Snow White love interests but never really addressed that part of the story head-on. In this movie, Hemsworth and Chastain have some nice chemistry — like the queens, they are also equally matched. And by limiting the number of sidekick characters to essentially four, the movie is able to make better use of them and develop their personalities more.
The Huntsman is fun in a way that occasionally borders on silly and with a story that works best when you don’t question it too much. If an hour per week of new Game of Thrones isn’t enough fantasy action for you, you could do worse than this slightly above average fairy tale remix. B-
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures. 





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