Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron
Genre: Action/ Fantasy
Before he helped Snow White defeat the evil queen Ravenna (Theron) and claim the throne for herself, Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth) was a soldier for Ravenna’s sister Freya (Blunt) and helped her win many battles as she expanded her empire. However, with love forbidden from Freya’s kingdom, upon Freya discovering his love affair with fellow soldier Sara (Jessica Chastain), Eric was banished from the Kingdom and left for dead. Now, despite not seeing one another for seven years, the two former lovers Eric and Sara must join forces to stop the two evil queens from conquering the entire land.
Of course most big budget films get the green light this way, but this slightly unexpected sequel to 2012s enjoyable, but forgettable action romp exists for the sole reason of it looking good (in theory) on an accountant’s balance sheet. Well, I say sequel, but the film actually starts off as a prequel as (with the help of a clunky voice over) it sets the backstory for both Hemsworth’s huntsman and the two new key characters. Then the action jumps seven years to just after the events of the first film and it is essentially more of the same, just without Kristen Stewart (even though she gets a brief mention – she is ill apparently!).
Now of course it goes without saying that the predictably silly plot to Winter’s War takes a fair few creative liberties (even for a fantasy film) when the plots of both films are put into context and compared to one another, and the plot itself certainly seems to blatantly steal elements from various recent films, Frozen being a particularly ominous one. However anyone who saw the 2012 film will know exactly what to expect as it is essentially more of the same, and is an entertaining, but highly forgettable romp that at under two hours long knows not to outstay its welcome.
The main plot itself is pretty easy to forget all about as it is particularly weak and certainly very silly and unoriginal. The narrative itself is pretty episodic, with our main characters walking from one minor bout of fisticuffs to another, and the plot seemingly coming up with any excuse for them to happen and fill the time. Sadly, despite the premise of the plot insinuating that the future of the entire land (whatever that actually is) is at stake, the stakes never do actually feel like they are particularly high, and we never even get to see a single big battle sequence.
One of the major positives on offer however are the performances; though he does seem to have a limited range, ever since Thor Chris Hemsworth seems to have just got better and better at nailing the leading man role and is very charismatic as the film’s main protagonist. It is the kind of role that was never going to demand an Oscar-worthy heartfelt performance, but he effortlessly oozes swagger and charm. Hemsworth also shows a fair knack for comic timing, and so pretty much demonstrates the perfect characteristics for this kind of character, and Eric is definitely a likeable character worth spending a couple of hours with and routing for. The inexplicable Scottish accent is back, and is still pretty terrible, but as it is fantasy he just about gets away with it.
In what I assume can only be attempts at consistency, Jessica Chastain also adopts a supposedly Scottish accent for her character. Though her attempts at the accent are laughably abysmal, she is otherwise predictably watchable and makes the best of her clichéd character. Likewise Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron suitably ham things up as the evil queens, but manage to avoid going completely over the top.
For me one of the best elements of Snow White and the Huntsman were the characters of the dwarves, but only one of those returns and that is Nick Frost’s Nion. He is however not the only dwarf as we are also given Rob Bryden as Nion’s brother Gryff, and also Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach as a couple of female dwarves. How all the characters meet up and all six decide to embark on a bizarre road trip together is never really justified, but it does bring a good dynamic to the group of characters that we have to spend a fair amount of the film with, and they are all likeable and it does allow for some decent comic lines between them. Nick Frost and Rob Bryden basically play themselves (including their own natural accents, even though they are supposed to be brothers!) but they, and Smith and Roach’s sassy characters are effective comic relief, but are never over used or threaten to become too annoying.
Of course the fantasy genre is all about escapism, and Winter’s War certainly delivers this with not only some great set design that not only focusses on the scenery, but also the more articulate attention to detail, even small creatures that live in this land. Though certainly no masterpiece and it has many flaws, Winter’s War actually defies the general rule of sequels and is actually better than its predecessor (albeit only slightly). This despite actually having a weaker overall plot that is completely disjointed, but crucially it seems to have a bit more fun with itself and does not star Kristen Stewart. Gone is the moody tone and sulky leading character of Kristen Stewart, and instead we have a talented cast who have a lot of fun, some great set designed and some genuinely funny moments. All of this makes for an enjoyable fantasy romp and Winter’s War is without doubt tremendous entertainment, just do not expect to remember much about it.
An actual improvement on its predecessor: Huntsman: Winter’s War, is certainly far from perfect, but it has tendency to have a bit more fun than its 2012 predecessor, and therefore so does the viewer. Pure escapist entertainment.