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‘The Huntsman’ Tells The Fantasy Tale You Never Wanted (Movie Review)

the huntsman winters war thumbThe worst fears have been realized, as The Huntsman: Winter’s War is The Return of Jafar of big studio fairy tale movies. Armed with a $115 million budget, this attempt at a spin-off/prequel/sequel fails miserably in its attempt to have any more worth than a direct-to-video sequel that no one expects much from. It would be one thing to announce this film as some kind of soon-to-be camp classic, but the dreariness keeps things far more in check than one would like. The result is a dire and unnecessary film that offers next to nothing.

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There is a ridiculous amount of set up in this film, which is part of the problem. We begin with two sisters, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt). Freya suffers a tragedy that turns her into the Ice Queen and she builds an army by kidnapping children and turning them into warriors. This is where we meet Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). More tragic events leave Eric astray, with enough time for the events of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman to play out. After all of this backstory, we then get to the film’s present, where a new plot surrounding the magic mirror comes into play.

For what it’s worth, ‘Snow White’ may not have been a very good film either, but it at least introduced a rich, visually interesting world and an entertainingly campy performance from Theron as the Evil Queen. The Huntsman, for whatever reason, decides to hold back on both elements. The film holds off on delivering exciting visuals and reduces the amount of time spent with the villains, who are so much more interesting. Instead we have a fairly bland story with four strong actors all doing their best not to look bored.

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan takes over directorial duties this time around and while he worked on the visual effects for the first film, he was apparently less interested in what they had to offer this time. We get to see an ice castle, some nasty goblin creatures and a little magic, but nothing that ever feels truly inspired. The bulk of this film features Hemsworth and Chastain walking through the woods with a few dwarves (including Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) providing terrible comic relief. For all the effort put into making a fantasy come to life, it is once again a shame the fun is missing.

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As talented as they are, none of the actors are doing much to elevate this. Hemsworth can elicit some smiles when playing up the sly comedic elements of his character, but there is no dramatic weight behind his more affected moments. Chastain may be putting in the work, but this feels more like the role required for her to fulfill her Universal contract. Blunt could have had the most interesting role, were we allowed more time to see what her grand scheme was actually supposed to be. That merely leaves Theron to do what we already enjoyed in the first film, but with less time to see it.

For a film that could have gotten slack for dropping its female lead (Kristen Stewart), only to solve the issue by stacking the cast with far more female characters (including the other dwarves as well), it still managed to drop the ball. The Huntsman falls short in terms of making good use of these characters, telling a story that made any kind of difference or at the very least working in multiple cool action sequences. The lack of compelling action is as big a flaw as anything else and coupled with a relentlessly dark tone (save for those winning quips no one will remember), I wonder what the point of all of this was.

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The most intriguing aspect could have been the film exploring its segue from Snow White to The Snow Queen, as far as seeing a darker, live-action adaptation, but apparently no one really thought this through. A setup involving children being kidnapped and turned into warriors provides a wealth of ideas, but nothing comes from this either. Simply diving into what drives Ravenna to commit the acts that she does would have worked, but we get nothing new there either. The plot we do actually get misses its marks by never offering a single surprise. It is just a series of missed opportunities in a predictable follow-up film that never figures out why it needed to be made.

To say The Huntsman deserves credit for its looks is like complimenting a period drama on its authenticity. I do not expect to get a bad-looking film when the budget is so high or the subject matter is so specific. The next step is to deliver on a story, or have fun characters or simply have some sort of ambition. The Huntsman has none of that. It cobbles together some ideas, brings back a character you at least liked more than anything else the first time around and hopes you enjoy the final results. I didn’t and not even Liam Neeson’s narration was enough to inspire joy.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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