Sometimes, writing movie reviews means critics walk a fine line. Films are supposed to be measured on a scale of how good they are, but what happens when a movie isn’t that great but it’s a lot of fun?
Case in point: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.”
This one was destined to fail from the get-go, thanks to screwy marketing — did anyone actually understand if this was a prequel or a sequel or what the movie was even about? — and a change in cast. Even Chris Hemsworth swinging a heavy ax couldn’t get crowds to the box office for this one.
“The Huntsman” is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” starring Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. In that one, Snow White and the Huntsman (Stewart and Hemworth) did battle with the evil queen, Ravenna (Theron), and saved the day.
Let me be frank: I hated “Snow White and the Huntsman.” I thought it was pretty and all, but the film was dull and incomprehensible at times. In what world is Kristen Stewart more beautiful than Charlize Theron? The latter is like an Amazonian goddess. The film was also over-acted and just plain boring. Stewart’s main lines were that “unngh” noise she made famous in Twilight, and Hemsworth was dirty and broody because his wife had died, meaning the two had the chemistry of a rock.
Where was the adventure? The thrills? Don’t ask me. The search party is still out. Total yawnfest.
“The Huntsman” takes us back in time and introduces us to the dead wife, Sara (Jessica Chastain). We also get a name for our ax-wielding hottie: Eric. The duo are soldiers in an army led by Freya (Emily Blunt), an ice queen who also happens to be the sister of Theron’s Ravenna. Her heart is as icy as her breath after the betrayal of a lover and the loss of a child.
Sara and Eric fall in love, which is a no-no to their queen who wants the world to be alone and miserable like her. Disaster strikes, and the two are parted.
The film then flash forwards to a setting after the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Snow White is still queen and married to her childhood friend, Prince William (Sam Claflin). She’s also gone crazy due to the proximity of Ravenna’s magic mirror and ordered it taken away. It gets stolen, and the Huntsman, a not-so-dead Sara and a group of dwarves are charged with retrieving it.
This one is almost as ridiculously busy as its predecessor. But unlike the first film, this one didn’t do well at the box office. Some say it’s because Stewart was left out of the film, but that was to be expected after she had an affair with “Snow White” director Rupert Sanders. I think her omission made this film more enjoyable, but it was a lost opportunity to pull in the “Twilight” crowd that adores her. Thus, the box office drop.
I’m definitely not the first to say it: “The Huntsman” has some problems. The accents are atrocious — I expected better of Chastain — and the film has a timeline that makes “X-Men: Days of Future Past” look downright simple. You don’t go into movies like this one to be wowed with nuanced acting or plotting.
Movies like this are about the experience, a complete and utter suspension of disbelief. All that we ask is to be entertained. That’s where “The Huntsman” succeeds. It’s bunches of fun.
Hemsworth isn’t stretching his acting chops here, but he’s entertaining. Gone is the broody, filthy Huntsman from before, and instead, we have a laughing, joking man whose smile flashes as quickly as his shiny ax. It’s a better fit for him, one that plays to his strengths.
Nick Frost is back as Nion, the simple-minded but sweet dwarf, and Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach round out the dwarf party. They’re small but full of wit.
Theron reprises her role because one evil queen is never enough. But, both she and Blunt are in parts that don’t even begin to use all their talents. But, they both looked gorgeous doing it. (As I said, nuanced acting and well-utilized female cast members are NOT a requirement for this type of movie. You can expect both, but you’ll only be disappointed. So, why bother?)
I’m not bashing or belittling the contributions of hundreds here. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos know where their bread is buttered. They don’t do anything that’d compromise those strengths or push this one into unexpected directions.
If you’ve seen the trailers and you’re even moderately interested in “The Huntsman,” then go and see it. You’ll get exactly what they promise. Nothing more, nothing less. And, that’s not all that bad.