The Huntsman: Winter's War (3D) (2016) (Review)

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is an intriguing case study, and the way this film plays out over the next few weeks will be wholly fascinating to spectate. The Huntsman: Winter's War is a prequel-come-sequel to the mildly average and middling Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), which upon release was neither a massive box office success or loved by one and all; in fact, the notion that it got another bite of the apple is in itself surprising. With the original film’s director and main actress exiting, following their scandalous affair, Chris Hemsworth steps up to axe to give it one more go as the titular Huntsman.

Set either side of Snow White & The Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter's War rejoins Ravenna's (Charlize Theron) determined struggle for power and control that eclipses that of her sister Freya (Emily Blunt), who very happily lives in her sisters shadow until a devastating event causes her deathly magic to rise and her new empire to emanate. Elsewhere, Eric the Huntsman's (Hemsworth) forbidden love with Sara (Jessica Chasten) tears his world apart and he begins a journey of retrieval and redemption under an empire where to love is to sin. Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach film the supporting cast as Dwarves who accompany the titular warrior on his quest to end the Evil and Ice once and for all.

Whilst initially sceptical, getting rid of Snow White is the best thing this hopeful franchise could have done. While the film never quite overcomes the constant reminder that she has been simply brushed under the rug because of the scandal surrounding it (the director, too, was evicted from the franchises' continuation) with very half-hearted excuses ("she doesn't feel very well" - seriously?). However, Kristen Stewart's disappearance allows for three of the strongest actresses to come to the forefront, with Theron returning for the sequel and Blunt and Chastin's introduction. They all prove to be excellent in their roles, with Theron's surly demeanour and if-looks-could-kill poise and Chastin's strength and vigour making more complex and dimensional characters than the previous instalment offered. Emily Blunt is Winter's War best asset though, with her Ice Queen captivating and engrossing, provoking a genuine sense of emotion beneath her cold-blooded and detached nature by the time we reach full-circle. Hemsworth, whilst constantly good, is overshadowed by his female counterparts, but is a notably increased - both in the size and quality of the role - on his often one-tone performance in the original back in 2012.

Another gem in this film's crown is the luscious visuals. Director Cedric Nicolas-Trojan crafts beautiful landscapes and rich effects together for a more striking backdrop. It gives the film some uniqueness in a genre that is otherwise derivative of other pieces within it; almost an amalgamation of previous fantasy offerings - Disney's Frozen and Game of Thrones is a combination I never thought I would see, but the extra helping of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe- it somehow balances out with its exuberance energy and approach. One thing this film has that the previous had little of, is humour, making for a wholly more pleasant experience as even with the dark and moody themes, some light is found to the shade. Brydon and Smith, in particular, create a humorous dialogue and chemistry throughout, utilising their comedic timing and inclinations for a swift-moving piece that avoids feeling one-tone or repetitive, despite the formulaic fairytale approach. Furthermore, while usually against 3D, this film works very well and is incredibly immersive - I'd recommend paying those extra few pounds/dollars/other currency for a better experience. I also must commend the incredible costumes featured throughout, all of which encompass character traits of the Ice Queen and Evil Queen especially. The production designs are incredible all round and a major win for the film.

The Huntsman: Winter's War may have its flaws but is an undeniable improvement over the first which appears even more average due to the new life found in the second. Some dodgy and ropy accents aside, the main four and the supporting four all compliment each other and offer strong and more complex performances (especially for those returning) - if only the underrated Sam Clafflin got more of a look in. Beautiful scenery, landscapes and effects all help in building this fantasy world and the before-and-after structure helps with the flow of the story once you overcome the inceptive confusion. I went into this film expecting to come out disappointed but instead did so feeling pleasantly surprised at the increased quality and final product. I'll just be interested now to see whether other critics agree and how the film performs after the moderate success of the original, four years prior (quite the wait in a cinematic timeframe).

(REVISED - 7.5/10)

Summary: The Huntsman: Winter's War, whilst with its flaws, is an undeniable improvement over the first instalment, with rich scenery and landscapes bolstered further by solid performances all round.

Highlight: Emily Blunt is simply magnificent, as she always with, but shouldn't take away from the strong lead performances from Theron, Chasten and Hemsworth, as well as the comedic supporters.