The Huntsman - Winter's War: Film Review
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Nick Frost
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
If the latest entrant into the Huntsman franchise is to be believed (Liam Neeson's sonorous voiceover at the end hints of more to come) then the series seems to be in danger of losing any identity it has.
Meshing Merida from Brave, a sort of Tolkien-esque quest complete with dwarves and throwing in a snifter or two of Frozen's plot, The Huntsman - Winter's War somehow fails to really eke out any real USP of its own.
This time around in a sort of prequel cum sequel (it's a tad confusing), the once upon a time concentrates on the sisterly relationship between Theron's Ravenna and Blunt's Freya. When Freya suffers a tragedy, her latent ice-queen powers are unleashed and she flees the kingdom to wreak her own terror.
Recruiting stolen children into an army of Huntsmen, Freya's forbidden any kind of love - but when Hemsworth's Eric and Chastain's Sara defy her wishes, they're banished from each other.
Seven years later and Eric, along with Nick Frost and Rob Brydon's dwarves. are tasked with finding the Magic Mirror before it falls into the clutches of the Ice Queen....
Missing Kristen Stewart's Snow White in only the slightest fashion, The Huntsman 2 - Winter's War is nowhere near the level of film that it could be or that a sequel should be.
Tonally lurching between comedy dwarves / banter to love torn apart drama doesn't serve it well and actually makes the whole piece feel unsure of itself and also leaves it lacking in any kind of emotional stakes.
Despite some incredible production designs and costuming (though Charlize Theron's returning Ravenna looks like she's stepped out of an emo L'Oreal ad at the end of the film), the film's only saving grace is its Tarsem Singh-esque visuals and FX work which is restrained and left for set pieces.
It doesn't help Hemsworth and Chastain have little chemistry - not to mention bizarre Scottish brogues - and feel like their Sara and Eric's love story doesn't even hit home with them as they move into Romancing the Stone territory style squabbling. At times, you're never quite sure whose story it is either - is it Sara and Eric, is it Freya and Ravenna; they're all blurred and blended up together in a mixture that feels under-cooked.
On the plus side, the CGI is used sparingly and is saved for Ravenna's almost Spider-Man Venom like attack on the Huntsmen and a creation of a Goblin also impresses. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was in charge of the FX the first time around, and he does a good solid job of ensuring it doesn't overwhelm proceedings, but he has little to work with other than some nicely choreographed fight sequences.
And to be fair to the dwarves' dynamic, Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon work well in terms of banter and humour; Frost and One Chance's Alexandra Roach add a softer sweeter touch to their interactions.
All in all, The Huntsman - Winter's War may have promoted its co-lead and his raffish Hemsworth charm to lead, but by not providing enough to work with and muddling other portions, the whole underwhelming thing feels like it's failed the Mirror, Mirror test before it's even started.