The Huntsman: Winter's War

 

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Chris Hemsworth returns as The Huntsman in this sombre sequel to the last Snow White 

film, with a strong female ensemble.

Huntsman Winter's War

Ice queens: Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt

 

Emily Blunt plays Freya, a fairy-tale princess who turns her domain into a winter wonderland. In fact, so frozen is her heart that ice pumps through her veins and everything she touches burns with cold. Sound familiar? Actually, Freya is a new character in The Huntsman franchise, a prequel to the Snow White story that began with Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012. While the first film featured Kristen Stewart as a Snow White we’d never seen before – like Mia Wasikowska's Alice in Wonderland, a beloved heroine of children’s literature clad in burnished armour and wielding a sword – it was Chris Hemsworth as the hunky woodsman who set female hearts aflutter.

 

Hemsworth certainly provided some eye candy, as did Dominic Watkins’ extraordinary visual design. But long before there was “happily ever after,” there was a tale of two sisters, one, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who was hopelessly vain, and the other, Freya, who believed in true love. However, believing herself betrayed by romantic ardour, Freya bans the emotion from her kingdom, declaring that whosoever should fall in love will pay for their weakness with their lives. And, as an uncredited Liam Neeson intones on the soundtrack, “the heart is a treacherous thing – and love is nothing more than a fairy-tale.” So, unable to raise a child, Freya raises an army…

 

Of course, in this sort of scenario you can’t keep a good passion down and as Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth) hones his fighting skills alongside his co-combatant Sara (Jessica Chastain), he can’t but be drawn to her drawing arm. Forsooth, Sara is a brilliant archer and brags that “I never miss” and with all that adrenalin flying around, she and he inevitably end up in the hot tub. Freya – who sees everything – is not amused and so contrives to separate the young lovers with a barbaric deception, rending their love apart forever…

 

In truth, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a fairy-tale, so love will obviously find a way, but the scripters Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoul make it an uphill struggle for Eric and Sara. Again, the visuals are the thing and the CGI is phenomenal, whether turning Sheridan Smith into a wily dwarf or creating a genuinely unnerving beast that is half-ram and half-ape.

 

First-time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan certainly pulls no punches when it comes to dishing up the terror, much as did Peter Jackson with his Tolkien trilogies. And the language – as uttered by miniaturised versions of Sheridan Smith, Nick Frost and Rob Brydon – is creatively ripe. The film definitely earns its 12A certificate, which makes one wonder at whom the film is actually aimed. Younger fans of Frozen should keep a wide berth, as nightmares will be inescapable. Still, Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off (again), so maybe older female teenagers may be seduced by the film’s mix of enduring love and beefcake.

 

Actually, it’s good to see a film like this with such strong female roles: Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain all bent on dampening Eric’s testosterone. But it’s Ms Chastain, in spite of a dubious Scottish accent, who carries the film. With her rippling triceps and flowing red hair, she makes an irresistible Amazonian, a live-action embodiment of Merida, from Pixar’s 2012 cartoon Brave. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same actress who played the misguided Celia Foote, the pathetic dumb blonde from Tate Taylor’s The Help. Last year was a benchmark for the actress in modern film and The Huntsman goes some way in continuing the trend.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sam Claflin, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu, Sam Hazeldine, Liam Neeson (narrator).

 

Dir Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Pro Joe Roth, Screenplay Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoul, Ph Phedon Papamichael, Pro Des Dominic Watkins, Ed Conrad Buff, Music James Newton Howard, Costumes Colleen Atwood.

 

Perfect World Pictures/Roth Films-Universal Pictures.

113 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 4 April 2016. Cert. 12A.