The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Huntsman: Winter's War

Although it's certainly possible to make a successful prequel, it doesn't happen very often. If the stuff that happened before the main story was really all that interesting, it would have been made first, or at least incorporated into the tale. The Huntsman: Winter's War is the latest film to prove this theory. A clear victim of “We Want To Create a Franchise But Have Nowhere Left To Go” Syndrome, this follow-up to Snow White & the Huntsman strains to identify a direction, never finding one. In fact, the film ties itself up in knots trying to get into some sort of groove.

Emily Blunt plays Queen Freya, sister of the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who was the villain in the first movie. After being betrayed by her lover, Freya uses her powers to create an ice kingdom. (Let it go, girl. Let it go.) She has children kidnapped and brought to her, where they are trained to become an army. There is one rule in the kingdom: love is forbidden. Two of her soldiers grow up to be Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). They fall in love, face Freya's wrath, and are forcibly separated. At one point, the plot intersects with Snow White's, so we learn that Ravenna has been destroyed. Her magic mirror is still out there, though, and the person who ends up with it will have untold power. Eric and Sara, later reunited, team up to find the mirror and, more importantly, prevent Freya from getting her hands on it.

There are certainly quite a few good elements in Winter's War. Theron and Blunt are both delightfully evil as the nasty queen sisters. Hemsworth and Chastain are good too, while Nick Frost provides effective comic relief as a dwarf who assists them. Visually, the movie is magnificent, with gorgeously designed costumes and sets. Special effects help create convincingly fantastical kingdoms and magical creatures. One of the best sequences finds Eric and Sara taking on a half-human/half-ram creature. The climactic battle between good and evil is also imaginatively conceived.

Despite all these positives, the movie never gels. That's because it doesn't have a strong, straightforward plot like the original did. In going backwards, Winter's War puts itself in the position of having to justify its own existence. Kristen Stewart decided not to return, which meant Theron would be the key draw. Her character died at the end of the first one, so that entailed taking the prequel route to bring the actress back. But what story to tell? Writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin aren't able to figure that out. Consequently, they throw a lot of stuff at the wall, hoping some of it will stick. Some does stick, but it leaves the wall rather messy.

The plot weaves itself around the events of the original, which can be a little confusing. Worse, it continually introduces new things, in a manner that feels desperate, as opposed to creative. Winter's War obviously wants to achieve the spectacle of its predecessor. Lacking that basic Snow White-versus-Evil Queen dynamic, it tries to compensate by jumping around from kingdom to kingdom, ushering different supporting enemies in and out, and basically reinventing itself every fifteen to twenty minutes. It feels like three different movies – one about Ravenna, one about Freya, and one about Eric and Sara – all mashed together. Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these plot threads, except that the film never ties them all together in a way that feels fully coherent.

In the end, The Huntsman: Winter's War is beautiful to look at, and some individual moments hint at what might have been. As with many prequels, though, it exists largely because a Hollywood studio wants a franchise, not because someone had a great story that they were passionate about telling. The movie sadly feels too much like the “product” it is.

( out of four)

The Huntsman: Winter's War is rated PG-13 fantasy action violence and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.

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