If ten years ago you had asked me what a live action Snow White would look like, my answer most certainly would not have been “Chris Hemsworth”. And yet, here we are. It’s 2016, an all-female Ghost Busters is around the corner, and Snow White’s star has bulging triceps and a scraggly beard. The pure, white, dark haired maiden as we remember her has been banished from her own sequel. It’s harsh… but fair.
You made it through Snow White and the Huntsman with nary a care for proper names. Now that we’re diving deeper into the story’s prequel/sequel, however, common nouns like Huntsman, Queen, Brother, and Guard on Duty are just a touch too impersonal. From the get go we learn that Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who lingers on the sidelines while the dark queen murders scores of nameless kings. Freya, a surprisingly gentle and optimistic relative of Ravenna’s, is happy to follow her sister around – until life hands her the short stick and the love of her life kills her newborn child. Overwhelmed by a broken heart, Freya blows a gasket, pulls a Queen Elsa, and runs north to build her own kingdom. She then whittles away the following decades by kidnapping children, grooming them into warriors, and expanding her borders with an orphan army. Among these warriors are The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) – known as Eric – and Sara (Jessica Chastain), a disturbingly attractive couple who waste no time falling in love. Who could blame them? In Queen Freya’s kingdom, however, love is against the law, and as Supreme Leader Snow, Freya uses her authority to order Sara’s death and dump Eric’s unconscious body in an icy river… where he floats downstream to her sister’s kingdom and Snow White’s rebellious phase.
Fast forward seven years and The Huntsman: Winter’s War lands in a peaceful kingdom ruled by the beautiful, the noble, and the suspiciously absent Snow White. White’s subjects, however, fear that the recently stolen magic mirror could find its way back in the hands of a new evil conqueror. She orders her Huntsman – sorry… Eric – to find it and steal it back. Meanwhile Freya, the Frost Queen of the North, waits for the mirror — the same one that drove her sister mad, poisoned her kingdom, and caused her horrible death — to come to her. The Huntsman – Eric, dammit – sets off with two nameless dwarfs (played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) to find the mirror and destroy it before it can turn Freya into another Ravenna.
With such a strong, two-part title like The Huntsman: Winter’s War, you’d think this story stands on a pretty solid, battle-hardened foundation. In reality, it’s more like a wispy cross between Frozen and The Lord of the Rings. Freya, the ice queen, desperately avoids emotion by escaping to a loveless life in a northern ice castle, while Eric prances around Middle Earth with two dwarves who “Grew up in the mines”. I half expected Sara, a poised and lean archer who never misses, to whip back her decoratively braided hair and show us all her elf ears.
Lack of original material aside, if you’re going to see The Huntsman: Winter’s War because of the stunningly attractive ensemble then you’re in luck. Hemsworth and Chastain have meltingly beautiful chemistry in this romance disguised as a fantasy action. Their predictable story of love, loss, hate, and passion is a colourful contrast to Freya’s stone cold loneliness. Even so, Emily Blunt gives purpose to her character’s frigidity, throwing a hint of sadness behind her frosty paleness and a deeply suppressed hate into the glare of her masquerade collection Google glasses.
While snakes made of flowers, owls made of snow, and contacts made of memories lend a tone of magic to The Huntsman: Winter’s War, it all feels superimposed. It’s as if the real story – the one about infanticide, immortal dictators, and child soldiers – was gagged and thrown in the closet in order for the film to be eligible for a PG rating. The Huntsman: Winter’s War also tries to throw humour in where it doesn’t belong. Bringing a pack of dwarves along to lighten the mood feels a little cliché, especially when those dwarves keep multiplying. The Huntsman: Winter’s War may show up on weekend movie channels in the future, but I don’t expect it to be a memorable classic. Some of the fighting (while flashy and blurry) is neat, and the magic effects of evil Elsa and zombie Anna are super cool, but all in all it’s about a 5/10.