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The Huntsman: Winter's War
Genre Fantasy
 
Review:

Snow White and The Huntsman was a beautiful magpie of a fantasy adventure. While far from perfect, the film's unlikely duo in Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth kept us guessing as a dark, majestic performance from Charlize Theron stole the show. No one was expecting a prequel... no sequel... spin-off?

Whatever it is, The Huntsman: Winter's War creates a continuity of its own by including Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, visual effects supervisor turned director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and it's predilection for stealing from bigger and better fantasy films. As if having one brilliant actress wasn't enough, they've gone and snagged another two in Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.

This time around, The Huntsman is trying to circumvent a complete takeover of the kingdom. We're given a light origins story and introduced to a new love interest in Sara. The two are separated by Freya only to reunite in an effort to foil both Freya and the resurrected Ravenna.

The ensemble is impressive even if Chris Hemsworth is playing a blend of Thor and Brad Pitt in Snatch. He's there, but he's not there... delivering a Wednesday performance, which is further distanced by our difficulty in deciphering his forest of an accent. Luckily, he's able to push off Jessica Chastain in a Witch Hunters style duo, and supported by two snarky dwarves in Nick Frost and Rob Brydon.

The evil queen match up between Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron counterbalances this party of adventurers as the recovery of the magic mirror becomes paramount. It's like an adaptation of Frozen, creating a similar dynamic with dwarves instead of a snowman and moose, and Chris Hemsworth as the mountain man. The twisted sisters complete the picture and instead of singing "Let It Go", they're committed to being "the fairest of them all"... even if it comes down to a dazzling CGI-fueled cat fight.

The CGI is quite masterful, painting an icy magical kingdom and casting a spell on the audience with life-like creatures and sorcery. This distracts us from a pithy story as elements from better films drop into place like dominoes. The goblins are basically mutant Planet of the Apes primates, who are intimidating and just ape enough to be scary.

The icy Queen Freya is a variation of Tilda Swinton's White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, complete with polar bear. Even the altercation at the bar has a Lord of the Rings feel, while Eric and Sara's relationship echoes Game of Thrones.

Disney tried to graduate visual effects wizard, Robert Stromberg, into a fully-fledged director in Maleficent and here Cedric Nicolas-Troyan attempts a similar leap of faith. While the visual effects are dazzling, the storytelling and performances aren't as polished and the film suffers as a result.

The Huntsman: Winter's War has a first-class cast, incredible visual effects and some sharp action sequences, but these fail to rescue a garbled script and truly engage our imagination. The fantasy adventure isn't epic enough to draw wonder, funny enough to be charming or magical enough to absorb us. We're left in limbo, rooting for the talent, marveling at the effects, ploughing through the dull familiarity and waiting for the film to click...

The bottom line: Half-hearted


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