So if there are any nuances lost to me (as a reviewer) by not having seen SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) I’ll apologize in advance for missing them … but so far as WINTER’S WAR is concerned? I had plenty enough fun with this swashbuckling tale that I’m giving it a thumbs up.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Genre favorites Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth bring their screen magic together in THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, a fairy tale of star-crossed love transcending the force of Evil that would keep them apart in what appears to be a functional crowd-pleaser if there ever were. As best as I can detail, it would seem that this tale kinda/sorta book-ends the SNOW WHITE tale its linked to as some of the action and adventures serve as set-up for the characters and then leap ahead seven years (or so) to the point wherein Hemsworth’s Eric learns that the love of Sara (the always lovely Jessica Chastain) denied him by the scheming Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) was a magical ruse: Sara lives, but now she’s an adversary who’ll stop at nothing to recover the Magic Mirror for Freya whom she serves.
Thankfully, WINTER’S WAR is structured like a big budget fairy tale, and it follows that formula consistently from start to finish. There are magical kingdoms, evil queens, dwarves, trolls, and the like all thrown together around an epic quest to keep Ravenna (Theron) from controlling all of the known worlds; and the tale is even given an off-screen narrator who helps make sense of how these smaller moments combine with the larger action pieces. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan keeps the pace up, and – about the time one experiences even a modest lull in the action – you can bet he’ll deliver another effects sequence to boggle the mind. It’s effective and efficient eye candy, even when some of it feels more than mildly glossed over in the rush.
Still, Hemsworth’s charisma carries the picture about as far as it can; and Chastain proves yet again that she’s a bona fide screen presence alongside the sometimes Marvel comic book character. (For those born on an island, Hemsworth plays Thor for the big screen.) Theron’s work here feels a bit obligatory, much of which may be owed to the fact that she appears only in the opening set-up and the finale; as the central force for badness in the land, she chews scenery as required but is never quite given enough chutzpah to be more than a carbon copy villainess. By contrast, Blunt becomes her own force to be reckoned with, and she’s necessarily provided a means to achieve redemption from the stroke of evil genius that set her on her own path.
Excepting the mythology set out for the film’s big leads, everything else here is a bit muddled. There’s a point wherein I suspected more of it may’ve made perfect sense had I seen SNOW WHITE, but – in the end – films do need to stand on their own merits. WINTER’S WAR has enough chemistry to make it palatable for newbies like myself, but I’m not sure all audiences would feel the same. When you’re structured on fairy tales, methinks it all works to keep it simple, and – when it does – the flick works just fine as a few hours of mindless popcorn funnery.
If you want more narrative substance or worldly messaging in your fantasy, then stick with Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy instead.
RECOMMENDED. At first blush, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR doesn’t approach the level of cinematic importance of other Fantasy fare (I’m thinking here of THE LORD OF THE RINGS adaptation much more than THE HOBBIT trilogy of films, which I found bloated), but instead it takes a simpler road through the forest, one dedicated to delivering action, suspense, and romance in typical Hollywoodesque fashion. On that level, I had absolutely no problem with the flick; the cast feels right at home, the story delivers on its fairy tale promises, and – in the end – love conquers all. Consider it acceptable Friday or Saturday night fluff if you’re in for the night.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Universal Pictures provided me with a copy of THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.