Release Date: April 22, 2016
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Writer: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Craig Mazin, Evan Daugherty (characters)
Cast: Sam Claflin, Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Sophie Cookson, Nick Frost, Colin Morgan, Ralph Ineson, Sheridan Smith, Alexander Roach, Jonathan Buckhouse, Rob Brydon, Sam Hazeldine, Jadey Duffield, Mark Haldor, Karl Farrer, Zoe McLane, Sarah Sharman, Kara Lily Hayworth, Robert Portal, Sope Dirisu, Edd Osmond, Amelia Crouch, Lynne Wilmot, Conrad Khan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 114 minutes
Production Company: Roth Films, Universal Pictures
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Back in 2012, Universal Pictures decided to take a crack at telling their own version of the classic story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I wasn’t at all interested in the project initially, but my mind changed after learning about the involvement of Chris Hemsworth as one of the leads being the Huntsman. Then finding out Charlize Theron was part of the cast as the antagonist piqued my interest even more. The idea was great, and the film had remarkable performances from all the leads; minus Kristen Stewart. She’s a decent actress, but brought the film down in my opinion, on top of the weak story and plot. Now the sequel is here, adding Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt, and it’s for sure a step towards the right direction. Winter’s War is a fine film, containing detailed fight scenes, a few funny moments, and overall strong characters. But there’s something missing, overall, that robs you of a full experience.
The studio took a risk with first time directors on both installments of this franchise. The first round was with Rupert Sanders, who only directed one short film prior to directing the film, and now it’s Cedric Nicolas-Troyan for the sequel. Neither directors had previous experience as a director on a full Hollywood budget, which isn’t necessary but could’ve of course helped, especially the first time around. I say that due to the film not fully embarking on a scale that has stakes you care about. Going in I wasn’t entirely sure if this story was a sequel to the first film or a prequel. Interestingly enough, it serves as both, expanding the universe more from what came previously. During the times when the timelines met, the film shifted as if I was watching a completely different film. Instead of one cohesive through line, it felt like a two-part series. That doesn’t mean it isn’t intriguing, but it is worth mentioning due to it standing out like a sore thumb.
One of the highlights in both films is of course the Huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Here, you’re intrigued, as the story focuses on his origins as a child. Seeing him alongside other adolescents his age, one being that of Sara (Jessica Chastain), mapped the mentality of a warrior from birth and how they adapt in the real world. From the first moment you saw Sara and Eric together, two things were for sure. They’re both fierce and will soon grow into powerful warriors, and they’re in love. The chemistry between them blossomed throughout the film, and simultaneously showcased a friendly rivalry of competition between both of them. They trained hard and grew up back to back, and fist to fist, making sure they would rise to the top. The montages and clever editing assisted in showing how important these moments were, and it presented how much time has passed over the years in a fun way.
The chemistry between the two faded away once they got of age, but an important plot device took its place. Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) and her moment of awakening shined. With Blunt being such a great actress it goes without saying how well she did within her role. It’s saddening the cgi that went with her performance will not be able to have the same bragging rights. The imagery of her powers looked bad, and for a moment like an old Nintendo. She helped take a good turn with the story, but her powers were a distraction to what wasn’t already there.
Aside from Freya’s powers not looking the part, the rest of the film did. The landscape was beautiful, detailed, and thought through. The cast was great across the board, and Theron returns to the sequel, giving an even better performance in her psychotic role than the first time. What’s sad is with all the greatness previously mentioned there were no stakes in the film. Regardless of if there was a McGuffin or not, I didn’t see a real danger in the antagonist potentially succeeding. In the middle of the film, I thought this would reveal itself towards the end, but that revelation never comes around. Other than ruling the kingdom, there wasn’t an obvious loss that would have transpired given her rise to power. So after a long entertaining buildup to nothing, you’re left imagining your own conclusion.