You tell me.
I’ve sat through The Huntsman: Winter’s War and have no idea what the hell anybody was thinking. I certainly hope it was because some of the creatives were a little too fond of cocaine … because if they weren’t stoned out of their minds but still churned out this jumble, then all hope is lost.
Back in 2012 there was a movie called Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth. It was a feminist retelling of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tale which I ended up liking a great deal. But, of course, there’s no idea so good that a band of craven Hollywood executives can’t screw it up and so now comes this prequel/sequel to that 2012 film.
Danger: Blasting Zone Ahead
In a way it’s a funny demonstration of how the folks who run the film industry simply can’t not do what they’ve always done. And by that I mean the Third Act Explosion.
As an old-timer I can tell you that movies didn’t use to be like this, but it’s become mandatory that “big” films have to explode at the end. I’m not talking about those superhero-in-tights flicks where the explosions take the place of the plot, you go in expecting that. What irritates me are the inexplicable explosions; the lovely, charming animated film Up is significantly marred by loopy violence at the end. Last year’s Inside Out was a quirky, funny surprise … until everything had to blow up in the finale.
These film people can’t help themselves; they don’t know how to do anything else.
The Broadway mega-hit Wicked is perhaps an illustrative example. That musical is a reconceptualization of the witches from The Wizard of Oz and how they found a way to be friends in a world driving them to hate each other. It’s become hugely popular, especially with young girls, and one of musical theater’s most profitable shows.
All that money! There’s no way Hollywood wasn’t going to muscle in. But when they got around to making a knock-off version—Oz the Great and Powerful—it bombed. Since Hollywood can’t make a movie with female leads, the Wizard became the central character trying to control three battling witches and, of course, everything had to blow up in the third act.
And there’s Frozen—a huge hit about two sisters and their complex relationship which has thrilled young girls the world over. It’s been a cash cow for Disney … and the scent of big box office receipts drives Hollywood crazy. Surely there must be a way they can tap into that vein.
Which brings us back to The Huntsman: Winter’s War. It’s almost as if writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin threw darts at a board of recent film releases, picked stuff they liked and jammed it all into the old formula.
There’s characters from Snow White and the Huntsman, specifically Theron as the Wicked Queen Ravenna and Hemsworth as the Huntsman who helped kill her. But this movie begins before the events in Snow White and we meet Ravenna and her sister Freya, played by Emily Blunt. She and big sis are great chums … until Freya meets with heartbreak; her lover betrays her and her child is murdered. At that moment she discovers she has magical powers; she can turn things to ice! And before you can sing a few bars of “Let It Go” Freya’s off to the north where she creates an ice palace.
A Cold World Without Love
She decides everyone is better without love so she steals children from various kingdoms and trains them to be soldiers. This is where Hemsworth comes in. He’s kidnapped as a boy and grows up to be a huntsman, along with a young girl who turns into Jessica Chastain and, like Katniss Everdeen before her, is handy with a bow and arrow.
Freya’s major law is “Love is a Sin” so you just know that Hemsworth and Chastain won’t be able to keep their paws off of each other. Freya hears about this and Hemsworth is banished. On the timeline of these two movies, this is then where the events in Snow White happen (Hemsworth and Stewart fall in love and kill Theron.) We then rejoin The Huntsman as people are trying to destroy the magic mirror because, as it turns out, Theron didn’t really die, she just transferred her soul into it.
The mirror disappears and Hemsworth is called upon to find it. Except the mirror doesn’t want to be found and is using it’s power to get to Freya’s ice palace.
It’s here that The Huntsman becomes what Frozen would have been had Peter Jackson directed it. Hemsworth is the swashbuckling hero leading a plucky band … including comic-relief dwarfs! … on an adventure through mythical lands where curses and dangerous inanimate objects cause lots of mayhem while evil rulers are trying to kill him.
Eventually Theron pops out of the mirror and she and Freya team up. And then, finally!, it’s time for the third act explosions.
If any of that makes sense I’m not telling it right.
Most of the movie involves lots of fight scenes with indistinguishable extras dressed in grubby clothing, so it’s difficult to know who’s fighting who and why. Theron and Blunt, however, get to wear several dazzling costumes and the special effect of the mirror is pretty groovy. But it all looks like it’s been filmed on discarded sets from the The Lord of the Rings. Hemsworth tries too hard to play the devil-may-care action figure; he always seems to be twinkling and smiling about something—which made me think he was watching a more entertaining movie than me.
If only the explosions had happened in the first act, I could have gone home two hours earlier.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.