'The Huntsman: Winter’s War' is visually gorgeous, structurally weak

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Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth and Emily Blunt star in “The Hunts- man: Winter’s War,” Universal Pictures’ sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Once upon a time, “Snow White and the Huntsman” enraptured viewers with its beauty and bravado. Its follow-up, both a prequel and sequel to the 2012 hit, does just the same, with far less focus on constructing an enchanting narrative.

In “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” Freya, the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt), banishes her most skilled huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), after he falls in love with Sara (Jessica Chastain) and plots to flee the kingdom with her. His betrayal of Freya and her command to not love others returns to haunt him seven years later, following the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” when Snow White’s Magic Mirror is stolen from her castle. Fearing that the Magic Mirror will end up in Freya’s hands, Eric sets out to recover the stolen object with two dwarfs, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), at his side. Realizing that the Magic Mirror is embedded with evil, they expedite their journey, stumbling into forces that threaten to impede – or contribute to – their heroic venture.

As with “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” finds its strength in its striking visuals – notably its elaborate production and costume designs. Freya’s cold heart is complemented by snowy scenery, white masks and an adornment of white crystals, the sum of which suggest an innocence beneath her icy dominance and demeanor. Her sister, Ravena (Charlize Theron), dons elegant attire during her brief screen time, returning with a black and gold combination that signifies her wickedness and desire for power. Costume designer Colleen Atwood manages to contrast the sisters’ appearance with brown and silver textures, which are used to distinguish the film’s noble protagonist, Eric, and the duo of rugged dwarfs at his side.

“Winter’s War” is filled with strong performances from its cast members. The cold-heartedness that characterizes Freya is strengthened by Emily Blunt’s emotional depth, which complicates her role as the film’s antagonist. Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain do justice to the strength of their characters, grounding their performances in relentless power and determination. Nick Frost and Rob Brydon add light-heartedness to an otherwise dramatic narrative, becoming even more humorous with the introduction of female dwarfs – and scene-stealing actresses – Doreena (Alexandra Roach) and Bromwym (Sheridan Smith). Charlize Theron, however, manages to steal the spotlight yet again, impressing viewers with her unapologetic aura and flawless transitions between loving
sister and sinister queen.

However strong its performances are, “Winter’s War” falters under the weight of its structural weakness. The love story that unfolds at the film’s start escalates far too quickly to appear believable, obstructing the connection between viewers and the film’s characters. The film is likewise muddled in underdeveloped sequences – including important scenes – that deter the pace of the narrative, arguably as a result of the ambitious scope of the story. Most importantly,moments that should be cherished by viewers drown in ineffective or unconvincing dialogue – much of which is unintentionally humorous or bland. The sum of its narrative pitfalls eclipses the gorgeous visuals that saturate the film, providing a mediocre moviegoing experience that falls short of its potential.

Universal Pictures’ prequel/sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman,” though visually stunning and strengthened by solid performances, is weakened by its prioritization of style over substance. Though “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is an interesting expansion of the “Snow White” universe, it fails to live up to the expectations established by its predecessor.

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”
Running Time: 114 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Score: 3/5 stars