Ironically the theater auditorium I saw this in (Theater 10) was the one where I endured last year’s Fant4stic Four…
Beware of Theater 10!
This is my review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War!
Okay, so this is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which means my summary will require some time travel. Where’s the DeLorean when you need it?!
Anyway, so long before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the power-hungry sorceress Ravenna (Charlize Theron) learns that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is carrying the child of the Duke of Blackwood. One jumpcut later, the baby girl has been born and is destined to become fairest of the land because–fairy tale. On the night that they are supposed to marry and run off together in secret, Freya sees that the Duke has murdered their daughter, so she unleashes her suppressed ice powers and kills the Duke. From there, Freya becomes a tyrannical Elsa and raises an army of kidnapped children into soldiers. Two of those soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are engaged in a forbidden romance that gets them kicked out of Freya’s ice kingdom.
Fast-forward seven years after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the magic mirror of Ravenna has gone missing, Freya is planning to destroy Snow White’s kingdom and Eric, Sara, and four dwarves must find the mirror to keep Freya from finding it and using it to resurrect Ravenna.
Am I the only one whose brain hurts after reading that summary? Just imagine what it was like to get through this mess.
I’ll give them this: The costumes for Freya and Ravenna are very pretty. While Ravenna’s costumes are a little too extravagant, they do fit the fairy tale setting. I did like how Freya’s dresses were white and silver; this keeps her from being an Elsa duplicate.
I understand what they were going for with Freya’s character; a hardened, grieving woman who tries to quash all sentiment while suppressing her own motherly instincts. In scenes that call for Emily Blunt to be heartbroken and vulnerable, she conveys these traits very well. With better writing, Freya’s tragic arch would have been more compelling than what we currently have. As it is, I found myself sympathizing with Freya, just not empathizing with her.
The first act is fine for the most part. It’s nothing to write home about, but I was fairly invested. The idea of a betrayed queen “raising” an army of child soldiers had potential and even some of the scene transitions were pretty creative.
The writing! Holy cow, the script is embarrassingly amateur! The story is painfully predictable, the flat and one-dimensional characters speak about how “true love conquers all” in blatant, on-the-nose spiels and the second act of the film is boring filler. If I had been watching the film with my high school creative writing teacher, he would’ve been face-palming every five minutes because the plot suffers from a plethora of narrative missteps.
I’m sure that you know the difference between a plot-driven narrative and a character-driven narrative, but I will go over it anyway because once I do, we can get to the heart of why The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t work.
A plot-driven narrative is where the events move the story and the characters are a small part of a bigger story. A character-driven narrative is where the story could not happen without the central protagonist(s); it is specifically about the evolution of one person or a group of people. Star Wars is a great example of a plot-driven narrative while American Sniper is very much a character-driven piece. Some films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Imitation Game are a seamless mixture of both.
In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, this is a plot-driven film that really should have been a character-driven narrative. From the dialogue, I could tell that the screenwriter intended for there to be more to Freya, Eric, Sara and the others, but whatever they intended got lost in the director’s agenda. This doesn’t work as a plot-driven story because the actual plot is very weak, which explains the sluggish second act and the rushed third act. The action gets in the way of any unique ideas that could have been explored and because Eric and Sara are written so poorly, Hemsworth and Chastain can do very little to make their characters interesting. After the first act, Freya comes in and out of the plot, so whatever interest there was in her gets lost. As for Ravenna, she is a shoehorned villain who is only prominent in the third act.
The story should have been a character study of two rival queens who are also sisters. If Eric and Sara needed to be a part of the story, have Eric be Freya’s confidant and huntsman and make Sara the right-hand woman of Ravenna, then use their forbidden love to deepen the seething hatred between Ravenna and Freya; love and hate would collide through these characters. The freaky magic mirror (which looks more like a gong, but whatever) could have been some all-powerful treasure that both Freya and Ravenna were after and would add even more fuel to their animosity. I’d rather watch that movie!
All right, I’m just gonna say it: This movie is pretty awful and it’s all because of the stilted, mediocre writing. Hey, Universal Pictures, do us all a favor and let Disney handle the live-action fairy tale genre.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go cleanse my brain by watching Maleficent and Cinderella again.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.