The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) is a fantasy adventure prequel/sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). The movie begins as Queen Ravenna (played by Charlize Theron) plays chess with her sister, Freya (played by Emily Blunt), whose powers have not yet emerged. When tragedy strikes, Freya’s powers sudden appear as ice powers. She flees and builds her own kingdom as the Ice Queen. She trains children to be her fearsome huntsmen. She has forbidden love in her kingdom. Despite her decree, two of her best huntsmen, Eric (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (played by Jessica Chastain) fall in love, secretly marry and plan to escape. Their plans is thwarted and Eric is cast out of the kingdom. Seven years later, it is after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, Queen Snow White has taken ill due to the influence of Ravenna’s evil mirror. The mirror is ordered to be hidden so its dark magic can be contained. On the trip, the mirror disappears and it is feared that Freya is after it. Eric is sent to investigate and recover the mirror. Can Eric find the mirror before Freya? What evil will be released if she gets it?
First, my review will be based on viewing the extended version of this film. There are a few things I liked. First, Chris Hemsworth is great as he returns to the role of the Huntsman. The only reason I wanted to see this film was Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman. I enjoyed this character in the first film and I looked forward to seeing him again. Hemsworth has proven he is capable with an action film. And I have yet to see a movie he’s in that I didn’t like. Granted I haven’t seen all of his films yet, so there may be a film or two I won’t like. I also loved his Scottish accent. Although I’ve read comments that the accent was horrible but it works for me and sounds like many Scottish accents I’ve heard. Second, the action was good and entertaining. Jessica Chastain was great in the action sequences and she and Chris Hemsworth worked well together. I thought their characters’ love story was very moving and believable. Third, there were moments of humor that made me smile or chuckle especially with the dwarves. Nion (played by Nick Frost) and Gryff (played by Rob Brydon) join Eric on his search for the mirror. Along the way, they are joined by Doreena (played by Alexandra Roach) and Bromwyn (played by Sheridan Smith). The interaction between the four dwarves add humor to the story. They aren’t just there for comic relief. The dwarves are in the thick of the action too.
The main issue I had about this film was how it was advertised. The movie was billed as “the story before Snow White” and the first part of the movie takes place before her story. However, the majority of the story and action takes place AFTER the events of Snow White’s story. So how can this be “the story before Snow White?” It reminds me of the movie 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) which takes place before, during and after the events of 300 (2007). If I remember correctly 300: Rise of an Empire was billed as a before, during and after movie unlike Winter’s War which was billed as a prequel. And it’s only a prequel for the first 25 minutes or so. I think the movie fully intended to be a sequel but when the affair scandal between Kristin Stewart and the director Rupert Sanders broke out and Kristin Stewart refusing to do the sequel, I think the producers scrambled about what to do next. Although, in my opinion, I think they could have recast Snow White and the fans would have applauded. There was also a mentioned that Disney may not have allowed the producers to use the name “Snow White” as they have the rights to the name and character. I’m not sure how true that it because she is mentioned in the movie several times and seen in a few scenes.
This movie was heavily criticized by critics and audiences alike. First, many critics and moviegoers pointed out that Freya was similar to Disney’s Elsa in Frozen (2013). They are similar because they were both inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Snow Queen. Was it smart to create a character who was inspired by the same story as a widely popular Disney film? Probably not, because even through Freya is closer to the cruelty of the Snow Queen, Elsa is still the image of the queen with ice powers. Second, many critics hated that the narrator in the film gives away the story before the movie has a chance to start. There was narration in Snow White and the Huntsman, so it would make sense that there would be narration with this film too. When I watched the film again, I paid more attention to the narration and I don’t think it gave anything away that the audience could already anticipate from just the description of the film. In the movie poster, you see Freya dressed as the ice queen but when you first see her in the film, she hasn’t gotten her ice powers yet. So you would anticipate something happening in order for her to transform into the ice queen. Third, many comments I read had a problem with the prequel/sequel premise and I can see why because I had an issue with it too as I stated above. I think a straight forward sequel would have been better. The Freya character could have introduced to the story without having to explain her backstory as they did. Or her backstory could have been shown as part of an exposition from another character.
Overall, I have watched the film three times now and each time I enjoy it more and more. It is a fun adventure story. It is a great Saturday afternoon popcorn movie. I think so many people now want movies which require you to think and contemplate the great questions of our lives and our world. However, sometimes you need a simple straight forward adventure story which leaves you pumped up and victorious. A movie which you cheer for the heroes and you cheer at the demise of the villains. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is such a movie. In my opinion, you don’t even need to see Snow White and the Huntsman first. You can get enough of the story which happens before in Winter’s War without being lost or confused. So if you have the chance and want to watch an adventure story with humor and great action sequences, I recommend The Huntsman: Winter’s War. It is available now on Blue-ray, DVD and On Demand.