2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman was a decent fantasy movie remembered for two reasons: Charlize Theron’s performance as the Ravenna, the Evil Queen, and for being the better Snow White movie of 2012. Now a sequel has been made with Snow White being jettisoned for the most part, and the focus shifting to Chris Hemsworth’s role of Eric the Huntsman – and his dodgy Scottish/Irish accent.
The trailers for The Huntsman: The Winter’s War marketed it as a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman – only the first 20 minutes looks at events before the first movie. This prologue chronicles the rise of Freya (Emily Blunt), Ravenna’s sister, who develops ice powers after her baby dies and conquers the Northern kingdoms, turning them into frozen wastelands. Freya also captures children and trains them into being elite soldiers – including Eric and his one true love Sara (Jessica Chastain).
Seven years after leaving Freya’s army Eric is living in peace in Snow White’s kingdom. But Eric is called to duty when the Ravenna’s magic mirror disappeared, and he is assigned to find it before Freya’s forces journey southwards.
Snow White and the Huntsman gave Snow White a ‘dark and gritty’ re-interpretation: a fairy tale that didn’t need a dark version. It was also a movie that ended on a conclusive note – the evil queen being defeated and Snow White takes her rightful place on the throne. For a sequel to work, The Huntsman had to retcon its own continuity, giving Ravenna a sister and making her a part of Ravenna’s rise. Eric’s backstory involving his deceased wife was also twisted by explaining he was manipulated by magic and explains why she is alive.
Snow White and the Huntsman was trying to follow in Peter Jackson’s footsteps when he adapted Lord of the Rings, trying to bring a realistic look to the fantasy genre. The Huntsman is a hodgepodge of other fantasy movies and novels, using ideas from The Chronicles of Narnia, Frozen, Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian. Freya has ice powers like Elsa which become more powerful and was brought on by tragedy and, like, The White Witch has plunged a kingdom into an eternal winter. Liam Neeson narrates the prologue which brings back memories of his role as Aslan in the “Narnia” series. Eric’s backstory is like 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, his family being killed by an army and is taken to be trained to become a badass. The mirror is basically like the One Ring, corrupting everyone that comes into contact with it.
Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption, was initially set to direct – which would have been a coup had he stayed on. Instead, visual effects artist and Snow White and the Huntsman second unit director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was handed the reins and made his directional debut. Like the first movie The Huntsman: The Winter’s War has excellent costumes and production design, creating a fantastic looking high Medieval world. But the sequel looks like it had less of a budget, having fewer extras, avoided battle scenes and the special effects were hit and miss. The goblins were fantastic, moving like gorillas and wearing plenty of bling, but other creature effects were too artificial, and the Freya’s ice powers differed in quality. The action also suffers, being cut too quickly to the point, it was hard to tell what was happening. The goblin who fights Eric seems to be able to teleport just because of the bad editing.
Darabont was also meant to write the screenplay, but in the end it was credited to Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos – men whose credits include The Hangover sequels and an array of straight-to-DVD Disney sequels. What they offer was a movie with a jarring tone – it starts off very dark having infanticide and children being kidnapped and trained for war, then reverts to comedy with Nick Frost, the only dwarf from the first movie to return and his half-brother played by comedian Rob Brydon, making jokes about accidental sexual encounters with female dwarves. The dwarves have a battle of sexes, using strong British swear words like wanker and shite which is inappropriate for a movie that will have a family audience. Fortunately, Brydon is a very good stand-up comedian in the UK and he delivers some funny lines.
Besides Hemsworth and Theron returning to their roles, The Huntsman has the additions of Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt. Chastain only took the role because she was contractually obligated, but her professionalism and talent shine through. She had a fighting style based on speed and agility and used a bow and arrow and knives – basically, she was a female version of Legolas. Chastain also gave a much more convincing Scottish accent than her onscreen love interest. The role of Sara is hardly going to be the most challenging role for Chastain, but she’s still superb.
Blunt was good playing the tragic villain – even if she is given some very silly lines like decreeing her kingdom has one law – love is outlawed! She was emotionally cold with only the occasional outburst of grief, and her performance was more tempered than Theron’s Ravenna.
Sam Chaflin reprises his role as King William, appearing for a scene to assign Eric his mission. Kristen Stewart famously did not return to the series – so it is amusing when Snow White does appear, and she was shot in a way so we could not see her face.
Huntsman: The Winter’s War is a genuine fantasy movie that lifts ideas from standard bearers of the genre. It looks impressive and has a fantastic cast but Snow White and The Huntsman did not require a sequel – but the final line of the movie hints there could be more sequels if The Huntsman is successful.