Netflix UK film review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Any kind of narrative logic3
Ivan Radford | On 21, Aug 2016
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain
Watch The Huntsman online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a sequel to a reboot of Snow White that takes place before the original happened and doesn’t even feature the fairytale heroine. If that sounds like a confused mess, it’s because that’s precisely what this bizarre concoction is.
Our story begins with future nasty stepmother Ravenna (Theron) betraying her sister, Freya (Blunt), who promptly flees north and creates a land of ice where she can live in solitude – and plot revenge against the world. Accompanied by loud music and full of angry stares, it’s like watching Frozen, narrated by Liam Neeson. Sure enough, before you can say “let it go”, up pops Aslan in Taken mode to growl some exposition at us.
The Huntsman (Hemsworth), whose name is actually “Eric”, turns out to be one of Freya’s many “Huntsmen”, young kids whom she snatched from their murdered parents and raised to form her own army of warriors. (Child soldiers, mass homicide and people called Eric? To say the tone is muddled would be an understatement.) Eric forms a close bond with Sara (Chastain), another of the reared killers, but the pair are separated by the frosty Freya, whose frigid house rules ban any kind of affection. After all, who needs love when you can freeze people with your bare hands? Or wear a magic owl mask that lets you spy on other people through the eyes of a magical ice owl? These are both actual things that happen in this movie.
Blunt keeps an admirably straight face throughout, while Theron – who, of course, returns from the grave, courtesy of the Magic Mirror – is hammier than ever. After the first film’s white and black costumes, her evil queen has gone from bathing in Kinder Bueno to full-on golden Cadbury’s Crunchie – and she’s got that Friday feeling all over her face, like a contestant who sneezed while competing in the Crystal Maze. The mirror, inevitably, turns into the MacGuffin of choice for the film, and our characters all find themselves running about after it, while it occasionally whispersto them, like a disused prop from The Lord of the Rings.
But while this refracted array of shards from other movies pretends to form a coherent plot, the cast are clearly having too much fun to care about logic, scripts or even speaking in the right accent. Hemsworth, swaggering around like Thor doing a spot of cosplay, fortunately oozes charisma without talking, while Chastain seems to revel in the chance to kick butt. And, in between them, Nick Frost, the always-excellent Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon deliver some real laughs as comedy sidekick dwarves (despite the uncomfortable fact that they’ve been CGI-ed to be much shorter, when comic performers such as Jordan Prentice and Peter Dinklage are established enough names in their own right).
Against all the odds, that fun proves infectious and, at times, you’ll find yourself rather enjoying this idiotic fantastical hodgepodge. It helps that Cedric Nicolas-Troyan – making his directorial debut, after doing visual effects work on the first film – has a knack for bringing this epic world to life, with each environment having a far more physical feel to it than the CG-heavy original. One sequence involving goblins with flammable tar blood feels genuinely innovative, while the action throughout is well choreographed.
Does any of it make sense? Not a jot, especially when you try to reconcile it with the first Huntsman flick, and Blunt is wasted in a role that she never quite milks for its camp potential. But this prequel to a rehash that takes place after the original happened manages to wind up more of a confused mess than its predecessor (or successor) – so much so that it’s actually better. Or so much worse that it’s more entertaining. Which, either way, feels oddly appropriate.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.