The Huntsman: Winter's War (3D)
Cert: 12A / 117 mins / Dir. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan / Trailer
Why, it was only a week ago that I pondered the increasing phenomenon of the 'Monday Movie Release', positing that it could be a way of further boosting a film's opening-weekend takings. Naturally I'd assumed the same of The Huntsman: Winter's War until I sat down in the cinema after work this evening and quickly realised that last friday was of course April Fools' Day, and would have too telling a move, even for Universal Pictures...
Two worrying things occurred before we even got to the BBFC Title Card. First up was a pre-trailer advert for the upcoming N*ckelb*ck UK tour. Oh, this movie is intended for N*ckelb*ck fans. Or vice-versa, I'm not sure which is worse. Secondly, the final trailer to run before The Huntsman: Winter's War was for... The Huntsman: Winter's War. Yes, this film had a trailer for itself before it. Not only is this a) utterly pointless and b) utterly narcissistic, it's also the trailer which actually gives away the closest thing the movie has to a third-act plot-reveal. So if anyone present had been avoiding spoilers in anticipation, the film's own distributor has made sure they've wasted their time.
[Update #1: 05 April] It appears that the trailer-incident was unique to the cinema I was in. I don't know the exact details, but it sounds like it wasn't planned, anyway. This is fair enough, really; a mis-selected trailer reel makes far more sense than a misplaced marketing decision.
Besides, worse things have happened.
But you didn't come all the way over here to read me banging on about gripes outside the run-time of TH:WW, did you? Oh, no! Right, deep breath…
Using 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman as its central anchor, this film is part prequel, part sequel. This time, rather than just banging the coconuts of Twilight and Lord of the Rings together, someone at Universal Studios has realised that there's now a shit-ton of Game of Thrones and Frozen to rip off, too! So in the pot they go, stir until dissolved and serve with a side-garnish of the rope-bridge from Indiana Jones and the net-trap from Return of the Jedi.
But before all that, this excruciating pantomime of slapdash plotting and digitally-simulated sentiment kicks off with a lead-weight narration to explain the things that visual storytelling can't, and enough lensflare and soft-focus to cover any other cracks which may be left showing. Charlize Theron (The Bad Queen™) starts as she means to go on, putting on two and a half stones in weight due to the amount of scenery she chews throughout production, flanked by her screen-sibling Emily Blunt (The Ice Queen™) whose eyes seem to plead a desperate apology every time she looks at the camera (alarmingly frequently), delivering her clunky, stilted lines. "Where are the days when I could be relied upon to pick challenging, meaningful or just engaging roles?" she asks. The audience briefly remembers that she also appeared in Into The Woods and bellows "BEHIND YOU!".
So, the pre-amble is set, the story (…) moves to a certain point, then the events of Snow White are glossed over with a "seven years later" caption-card and it's time for the next act...
[Oh, Snow White's alive during all this by the way. She's mentioned several times, just not shown other than in brief archival footage from the first film. Yeah, imagine what state your screenplay must be in when you can't even get Kristen Stewart to poke her head around the door and lend a little continuity. With Theron only surfacing in the first and third acts, it's a good job McThor was willing to reprise his role…]
Ah, the pièce de résistance! Headlining the film are Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. The former has retained his inexplicable Scottish accent from the first installment (his home-region in the highlands being somewhere between Cardiff and Gateshead apparently), and as Chastain plays his childhood sweetheart, clan-mate and love-interest, she also has a Scotch-Twang to match (although hers seems to be based around Dublin and Mumbai). I'd be lying if I said I didn't snort out loud with Hemsworth's first utterance (cue a sharp nudge from Mrs Blackout), and I'd be lying if I said I genuinely wanted subtitles for their dialogue, as I lost so much of it due to the vocal stumbling. Interestingly enough, watching Australian Hemsworth struggling with a Scottish accent isn't completely dissimilar to Scotsman Gerard Butler doing battle with an American one. They should definitely make a movie together.
[Clarification: And I know, obviously, that the story isn't set in the real world, so I wouldn't necessarily expect the accents to have geographical authenticity. But we, the audience, are in the real world, and we, the audience need to be able to understand what they, the characters are talking about at any given moment. So, y'know…]
Meanwhile, the actual (ie intended) comic-relief comes in the form of Nick Frost as the only dwarf to return from the first film, accompanied by his screen-cousin Rob Brydon sporting a Welsh accent (because he's actually Welsh; casting-directors, take note) and their respective counterparts Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach. The laughs are a little broad, but there's no denying that the sections of the film starring the dimunitive foursome move with a sureness that's sorely lacking from the rest of it.
And speaking of which, the main thread of the movie is Jock McHuntsman's quest to retrieve The Mirror (y'know, the Snow White Mirror-Mirror, mirror) from a goblin fly-tipping site, discovering in the process that the reflective golden dish has gone from being the Russell's Grant Horoscope Column we all know and love, and is now something closer to Necronomicon Ex Mortis, apparently. Even the characters' motivation for this task is clouded, since apparently it's sending Snow White a bit mad/evil and she wants it back, but the Ice Queen wants it as well because she wasn't evil enough to begin with. They're basically screwed whoever they give it to; a premise which makes up the film's final, borderline-animated, act. The rest is shrieking, grunting and a poly-count that illustrates where the budget really went...
Now obviously I was predisposed to being cynical toward this film, but The Huntsman: Winter's War really is an almighty mess. The melee-fight with the Goblin king was pretty great and Charlize Theron's clearly having a whale of a time, but everyone else just seems embarrassed to be there, as well they should. The first film was a rights-dodging retool of a classic tale; the sequel is Universal shouting too loud, and with nothing to say…
[Update #2: 05 April] Contains spoilers: highlight-to-read. Okay, usually when I hit Publish on a review, I've got any ranting out of my system and I can just move on. But TH:WW has continued to annoy me throughout the following day and I don't feel I've made my disdain for the film clear enough. My main issue with its predecessor was that it adapted a classic fairy-tale, but in a very loose manner which managed to twist any moral framework (that framework being precisely what fairy-tales are built on, the biblical-parables of their historical generation), and instead actually send out a counter-intuitive message.
The sequel however, calls itself a fairy-tale (at several points within the film, via the narrator) yet has no discernible moral message. The story, on a purely surface level you understand, keeps repeating the idea that The Ice Queen has "banned" love in her kingdom, and that the burgeoning relationship between Mr and Mrs Huntsman is the catalyst which can't be surprised and will be the weapon with which justice and peace are restored.
In any literary version of the story, Mr and Mrs Huntsman's love would save the day at a crucial point, where any other potential hero/heroine was left floundering, having learned the lesson that brute force won't win all battles and that sometimes understanding and forgiveness are more powerful. How is the happy ending achieved here? While The Bad Queen is stabbing McThor with her sharp tentacles of hate (don't ask), Mrs Huntsman - incapacitated on the floor as The Girl One must always be - yells to him "Hey, try twatting the mirror with that axe you've been carrying around for the whole movie!". So he twats the mirror with the axe, it shatters, so does The Bad Queen and then The Ice Queen (also stabbed, also incapacitated) manages to slay alive long enough to say "Oh, I might have been wrong about that 'banning-love' thing." while McThor and Mrs Huntsman just sort of nod quietly. Love didn't save the day, here. Twatting a giant mirror with an axe to stop a shrieking zombie psychopath queen is what saved the day.
That's not an inspiring morality-play, it's a fucking Vin Diesel movie.
The Huntsman: Winter's War isn't a fairy-tale; it's half an idea for a cash-in sequel, poorly told in an array of non-accents. Universal Studios' contempt for their own customers grows more vivid with each release.
And this film is for fans of N*ckelb*ck…
Being beaten around the head with a tin tray for two hours while someone tries to remember the plot of Frozen at the top of their voice.
Only for the shiny CGI.
I just might.
Level 1: Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year with Poe Dameron? Chris Hemsworth in those Avengers movies with Mace Windu? Well how about Emily Blunt starring with Obi-Wan or Nick Frost being in loads of things with Unkar Plutt?
This film shares uncredited extra Nick Donald with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sure, there are loads of level-2s that are fish in a barrel, but I think it's important to remember that there was at least one person on set who should have known better and could have stopped the production in its tracks by pointing to the script and screaming "Yeah, but WHY?".
Maybe next time, Nick...
*1 I don't even have any footnotes. I poured all my bile, scorn and sarcasm into the main body of text, up there. You're reading this bit for naught, I'm afraid. Mind you, while you're down here I'll just mention that I was quite amused at the film using the term 'wanker'. Sure, it's probably more than you'd expect from a 12A, but bear in mind that you can usually get an in-context fuck-word into the script at that level. What amused me more is that US screenwriters really don't seem to have cottoned on to how that word is used in the UK, bless them. It's mentioned on the BBFC site, and I wouldn't expect the rating to change for it, but I think there'll be more than a few terse comments about its inclusion.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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