“Winter’s War”: hot performances, cold story

The+Huntsman+Winter's+War“And you thought this was just a game.”

Nutshell: a sequel that feels like a sincere attempt that devolved into a cash-grab.  Outstanding performances and gorgeous visuals can’t save a story that doesn’t know what to do with itself.  But yay snow leopard! Grade: C

Oh, these middle-of-the-road films.  You know the type.  They don’t stink out, yet they’re not particularly good either.  Plenty of things to commend, but overall a lackluster experience.  So here I am again, trying to write up something for The Huntsman: Winter’s War, where all I want to do is shrug and go “well, yeah izzokay”.

But izzokay isn’t enough for Winter’s War, because the trailers promised a Narnia vs. Enchanted Forest matchup as Emily Blunt’s Ice Queen Freya battles Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen Ravenna.  However, that showdown is at the tail end of this story.  Worse yet, the trailers for this film ruin the “Gotcha!” moment; from the trailers it’s plain to see that Ravenna killed Freya’s infant daughter, leading to Freya’s Ice Queen status.  But in the movie that’s not revealed until the film’s ending climax.  Brilliant move, trailer-makers.  It’d have been better to let the audience assume that’s what happened, but not really know ’til the end.  But anyone who’s seen the trailer knows exactly how things will play out.

Well, not exactly.  Most viewers will assume that there will be a battle royale between the two powerful sisters, with armies and the whole nine yards.  A “Battle of Mirror’s Deep”, if you will.  But nup.  While Blunt and Theron bring it with their malevolent back-and-forth, there’s not much beyond posturing and a brief one-on-one fight.  It’s a letdown after seeing Blunt ride that ginormous snow leopard in the trailers.

This is awesome. No lie.

Winter’s War has been touted as a prequel, and it is for the first half hour or so, as we’re re-introduced to Eric (Chris Hemsworth, still rockin’ the Connery accent), meet his love/fellow Huntsman Sara (Jessica Chastain, kickass with a bow and arrow), and see how they met, and what happened between them.  Then things shift to post-Snow White, and two of her dwarf-friends track Eric down and ask for his help recovering Ravenna’s mirror.  But she’s dead, how will she be able to confront her sister at the end of the film?  Oh, you’ve seen the trailer honey.  You know she’s coming back.  And that’s not the only wobbly slight-of-hand plot device.  I’m betting you’ve already guessed at who else comes back.

Winter’s War is supposedly part two of a trilogy, or at least the idea of a trilogy was what the studio had in mind when Snow White and the Huntsman hit theaters.  But this film feels like parts 2 and 3 got jammed together, as if the studio wanted to simply wrap this series up and shelve it.  Yeah, KStew exploded her relationship with Robert Pattinson by shagging Snow White‘s director and getting caught, so I get that the story for this series is most likely in disarray.  But the prequel/post-quel of the plot here feels desperate, and at under two hours feels much longer.  But what’s truly odd is that Winter’s War also feels padded, as if they weren’t exactly sure what to do to fill the time allotted.  I’m guessing they used the original script that was supposed to have a role for Snow White, but cut and pasted it to death when Stewart didn’t return.

What’s good?  That’s easy. The performances are top-notch, with everyone pulling their weight and delivering wonderfully lived-in performances.  Well, except for Theron.  She’s 100% wicked with 0% regret, and it’s glorious.  Hemsworth and Chastain are suitably adorable as the star-crossed lovers, and it’s nice to see that they’re both equally adept at their job as Huntsman/warrior supreme.  In fact, if anything Sara is better than Eric in many ways.  #bowsareawesome

This film is lovely to look at, as was the first film.  The costumes are breathtaking; Theron and Blunt’s amazing gowns, are sure to be cosplayed to death, and I can’t wait.  Plus, it takes a lot for me to stop noticing a good looking guy so I can focus on his amazing outfit, and that happened here.  I wanted to rip off Hemsworth’s leather vest and beautifully embossed holsters…so I could have them for myself.  Yeah, they wouldn’t fit.  But damn they’re gorgeous.  The creature-shop put the love in here as well, with hedgehogs covered in butterflies, goblins with gigantic horns that dip themselves in gold, and of course that fantastic snow leopard.  There’s a whole lot of detail in this film, and it’s truly impressive.

I just wish the story lived up to it.


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