Snow White And The Huntsman was mainly Snow White’s story, but Chris Hemsworth brought some brooding intrigue to his supporting role as her pursuer-turned-BFF The Huntsman (real name: Eric). Enough brooding intrigue, as it turns out, to warrant a follow-up movie with Hemsworth at centre stage.
And so: The Huntsman: Winter’s War, an interesting companion piece to the first film which takes place before and after it, with a brief through-the-mirror recap at the start. In terms of narrative structure, the closest comparison point is 300: Rise Of An Empire. And, as with that inbetweenquel, the new characters here are often more interesting than the old ones.
For one, Emily Blunt stakes a claim to steal the show right from the off. She’s playing Freya – the sister of returnee Charlize Theron’s Ravenna – who begins the film as a shy sibling steeped in self-doubt and convinced that she lacks magical capabilities. This all changes when her personal life falls to shreds, and Freya gains the chilly powers of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic fairytale baddie The Ice Queen.
Blunt sells this transition from introvert to evildoer convincingly, to the point that Freya’s icy uncaringness pretty much shuns Theron – the snarling MVP of the last film – to the sidelines. This is handy, because Ravenna has to leave quite quickly to participate in the events of Snow White And The Huntsman while Freya builds her own empire.
And that’s where Chris Hemsworth comes in, as a member of Freya’s elite fighting squad. As with the last movie, Hemsworth strides into this film later than the main villain and has to make an impact. He succeeds almost immediately, as Eric – despite being taught not to show emotion – spars flirtingly with his fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) and delivers inspiring advice to a scared youngster.
At this point in the film, everything seems to be going well, with three of planet Earth’s most fantastic female actors vying for your attention alongside Hemsworth’s familiar gruff charm. But, because of the film’s story structure, we’re then thrust all-too-quickly into a transitioning montage.
The film relies heavily on voice-of-god narration – either from Liam Neeson or a very good impersonator – to skip significant periods of time, with the result being that all the character set-up of the first act suddenly seems wasted. And certain scenes that could’ve been great are left out altogether. (For instance, the voiceover tells us that Eric and Sara fought many battles side by side, but we don’t even get to see one of them.)
We then leapfrog Snow White And The Huntsman and catch up with Eric as he’s wandering around in the woods some time later. He’s given a McGuffin to chase and two allies to help – Nick Frost reprising his dwarven role as Nion, and Rob Brydon as his hitherto unmentioned half-brother Gryff. It’s as if the movie is starting all over again, which can’t help but feel jarring.
From here, the tone takes a swerve. The emotional turmoil of the first hour is out and bantering with dwarves is in, especially after Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach appear as love interests for Nion and Gryff. There are some hefty laughs here, but they can’t hide the fact that The Huntsman has gotten lost in his own movie.
This is a disjointed film, and as a result its protagonist is pulled in multiple different directions throughout. One minute he’s a grumpy loner, and the next he’s sharing jokey remarks. This isn’t unentertaining, but it does make it difficult to engage with Eric on an emotional level. He just does what the plot needs him to do, and rarely feels like a real character with real feelings.
And so, when the movie pulls Eric back to the start for a big confrontation with Freya, there’s no real sense of tension because The Huntsman has been on something of a merry jaunt since cutting ties with The Ice Queen. There’s no real weight to make this feel like an important grudge match, and the scene falls flat.
But The Huntsman: Winter’s War does have its strengths. There are some really neat action beats for Hemsworth and his co-stars, a few very funny moments from the dwarves, and stellar special effects throughout. Also, Blunt, Theron, Chastain and Hemsworth all embody their characters well. Of course, these positives make it a bigger shame that the movie is disjointed and often lacking in tension…