There are a few moments in The Huntsman: Winter's War that are surprisingly funny, and there are a few scenes that are almost heartwarmingly tender, but for the most part, the film fails to achieve anything more than a dismissive sigh.
It tries a little too hard to be charming, and when mixed with abysmal attempts at Scottish accents that almost seem facetious, the entire production comes off as inauthentic and a bit of a joke.
There's not much to salvage from this movie, much like its predecessor Snow White and the Huntsman, which makes for a tedious experience.
The only plus the movie has is Charlize Theron, who controls every scene she's in and breathes some much-needed life into the film. But even she can't save the movie from itself, and the result is an entirely forgettable movie that wastes the talent of everyone involved.
The film fails to achieve anything more than a dismissive sigh
The Huntsman: Winter's War is both the sequel and the prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, but you don't need to have seen that film to understand what's happening. If you didn't know there was a movie prior to Winter's War, you could watch this entire film and never be the wiser. The film barely acknowledges the existence of Snow White and the Huntsman, and because Winter's War is both a prequel and a sequel, it doesn't really need to.
Most sequels reference the events of the first film a couple of times to remind audiences of what's happened. Different mechanics can be used, from the overused flashback to specific referencing of events that are followed up with explanations, but Winter's War doesn't do that. Instead, it uses annoying winks to jokes in the first movie that it just expects the audience to understand, without ever elaborating on it.
The movie starts with Eric and Sarah (Jessica Chastain) being held captive as soldiers in a private army created by Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). The one rule in Freya's kingdom is that you can't fall in love, but Eric and Sarah decide to defy the icy witch, and in doing so, are separated for seven years. These seven years, in which nothing is shown, are supposed to represent the time that the original film took place in, but the entire setup is so sloppy and rushed that even having seen the first film, it took me a few moments to understand what was happening.
The film never quite feels whole. It feels patched together, taking scraps from various fairy tales and moments from the first film to try and make a new story, but the lazy result is an uninteresting mess that failed to hold my attention for more than 10 minutes at a time.
Usually when these issues arise it's at the fault of the script. There are too many gaps within the story that don't add up, it's a little too intricate for a 90-minute movie, or it's just plain awful. But, this time around, it isn't just the script that's problematic.
With the exception of Charlize Theron, who plays Freya's older sister, the evil Ravenna, most of the actors in the film deliver blatantly obvious half-hearted performances.
Films like The Huntsman: Winter's War are made for one reason: It's an almost guaranteed moneymaker for the studio. Snow White and the Huntsman, for example, pulled in over $400 million. They're not supposed to be taken too seriously, but it's still the job of the actors, writers and director to try and make it feel like more than just a bland cash grab. But that's exactly what Winter's War is, and that's precisely what it feels like.
There's very little to compliment in Winter's War, because there's so little happening in the movie that it's hard to even think of a moment that really stuck out, but one aspect that shouldn't be grouped in with the rest of the film's problems is Theron's role.
It's a shame that Theron isn't in the film more often
Theron, who delivers a devilishly spectacular performance as the icy, sociopathic sorceress, is the only point of interest in the movie. Unlike with Hemsworth and Blunt, there's an authenticity to her performance that's hard to ignore. She genuinely seems to be having a good time, and the deranged edge she brings to her character comes through perfectly.
It's a shame that Theron isn't in the film more often. Essentially, her character is around for the first 15 minutes or so and then disappears until the the last 20 minutes. The minute she disappears, the film instantly loses most of what makes it interesting, and I found myself spending the rest of the time wishing she'd come back.
A film can follow one person's journey and it can focus entirely on one character, but it's difficult to ask it to rely on one performance without the help of supporting actors. That's what Winter's War does, and while Theron's performance makes it more bearable while she's on screen, she can't save the entire movie.
The worst thing about The Huntsman: Winter's War is that it isn't the worst movie in the world, but it's not great either. It just simply exists.
The movie could have been a decent sequel, but instead it's an apathetic, poorly hidden attempt to make the studio a bunch of money.
Bottom line, it's disappointing. I went into the movie hopeful that it could be something more than what its predecessor was. I left not caring about anything I had just seen.