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'The Huntsman: Winter's War' is lukewarm take on Ice Queen tale

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APRIL 22, 2016

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” attempts to shed the bleak forestry and gray tints of 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” to tell the tale of the noble, though emotionally fragile Huntsman. The prequel/sequel addresses the Huntsman’s loss of love that is mentioned in the first film. Subtract Snow White (Kristen Stewart) herself a la actress-director sex scandal and pepper in some of Hollywood’s greatest talents — Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron as returners, and Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain as newcomers — and the result is an unbalanced spin-off with the ruggedly charming Hemsworth at the helm. Even with this overwhelming amount of talent, the cast couldn’t save the film from poor writing and underdeveloped characters.

In a flashback, a young Eric and Sara — names that could have been pulled from a rom-com, but yet exist in a world in which everyone else has mystical names such as Tull or Doreena — are recruited by Queen Freya’s army. The pair eventually fall in love, breaking the one law of the kingdom: do not love. Thus, we flash-forward to the adult Eric and Sara, played by Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain, respectively.

Playing the sister of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), Blunt’s Freya is quite lovely — the actress does what she can with the script. As the Ice Queen, she is heartbreakingly fragile beneath her frozen exterior. Deeply affected by her tragic past, the rule of her kingdom is: “Do not love. It is a sin.” Her kingdom is icy both in landscape and in heart. She seeks to retrieve the magic mirror, therefore gaining access to its powers. The Huntsman must find it before Freya does.

Indeed, by no means is this a simply condensed plot: It’s a lot happening at once. The film should have been about the Huntsman, the film’s namesake, but it strays. The Ice Queen narrative feels like a last-minute effort to cater to Disney lovers’ Anna-Elsa obsession: “Huntsman” then becomes a product of “Frozen” mania and the dark fairytale aesthetic that Hot Topic has now taken under its wing. With this glaringly unnecessary addition, the film gets lost in its plot and doesn’t spend enough time on developing its characters. Rather, to squish all of the plotlines in, each character is a facade, with the Ice Queen story being tacked on as more of a backdrop than anything with substance.

The adaptation of the fairytale worked in “Frozen” because the focus was on the strong, densely-layered women characters. Unfortunately, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” positions its females as afterthoughts, with only Blunt emerging from the script’s overdramatic shambles unscathed. Reprising her role from “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Charlize Theron as Ravenna is all gold makeup, wide eyes, dramatic whispering and slow walking. Chastain’s Sara is a humorless archer — “she never misses” — whose softness is revealed through her love for Eric. All three women exemplify the ceaseless drama from the first film, mostly speaking in cliches and used as canvases for beautifully-designed costumes. The Huntsman himself might be the only character with a sense of humor.

While the previous film featured Hemsworth on the run and fighting Ravenna’s men with Kristen Stewart, “The Huntsman” reveals a lighter side of the skilled axeman. Through a muddled accent, we see Hemsworth cracking jokes, even during arguments and combat — like a wannabe Han Solo. He shares banter with the endearing dwarves he encounters in the forest and grins at Sara after she wards off goblins during a battle sequence. Corny and uneven as the humor is, the attempt to lighten the franchise works in isolated bits, relieving the film of its melodrama, but sadly is not enough to even out the clunkiness of the plot.

With a better writing team, the franchise could have redeemed itself. Instead, “The Huntsman” resorts to shallowness and sloppily capitalizes on the success of a Disney success, only to diminish the talents of its actors. It seems that the Ice Queen story is best left to the animators.

Contact Danielle Gutierrez at [email protected].

APRIL 22, 2016