Mirror, mirror on the wall, is this the most unlikely sequel of all? When Snow White And The Huntsman ended, according to the fairy tale, with the titular princess safe and the Evil Queen Ravenna dead, it didn’t seem that another film was on anyone’s mind. But $396 million at the box office is enough to send even the most stoic studio executives back to the drawing board. Which is probably why we now have Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, with Ravenna (Charlize Theron) alive and up to no good in the first scene.
The Huntsman begins its story several years before the events of the first film. We learn that Ravenna had a younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who was in love with a duke and had a child who was burnt alive by him (if you aren’t even a little suspicious about his motives, your credulity levels are exactly where the studios want them to be). Distraught, Freya turns the duke into a pillar of ice, then heads off north, pillaging, establishing a vast, frozen kingdom and training young children she’s orphaned to be emotionally comatose warriors. Her two best fighters are Eric (Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role from the earlier film) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who fall in love. After Freya literally drives a wall between them, Eric escapes, believing Sara to be dead.
She isn’t. Why would anyone believe that an actor with close-to-top billing in a big-budget film would be dead 30 minutes in? The rest of The Huntsman is a series of waits: for Sara to make a reappearance, for her to believe that Eric didn’t leave her there to die, for the two of them to rekindle their romance and, with the help of a quartet of dwarves, take on Freya, who only has a huge army and magical powers. There’s a nice cameo that lifts the film in the last 20 minutes, but the sheer predictability that informs every scene—every line, really—is mind-numbing.
Surprisingly, the one redeeming feature in the film is the CGI work, which is imaginative and beautiful in a way that CGI rarely is. I didn’t feel anything for the wacko pairing of Hemsworth and Chastain, or for Rob Brydon and Nick Frost’s mugging as the dwarves, or Blunt’s icy depression, but found myself quite enamoured of the miniature disappearing elves, the sparkling columns of ice, the polar bear-tiger that Freya rides and the mirror taking a molten, familiar shape. But a few inspired moments can’t keep The Huntsman from seeming like the unwanted sequel to a film no one thought of very highly in the first place.
This review appeared in Mint.