THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
How do you make a Snow White movie without Snow White? After star Kristen Stewart declined to return for the sequel to the 2012 hit Snow White and the Huntsman, the producers decided to press ahead without her, but The Huntsman: Winter’s War never finds a reason for continuing the story without its protagonist (other than, of course, another chance to make money at the box office). Original director Rupert Sanders, who brought some striking images to an otherwise somber, plodding narrative, is also gone. He’s been replaced by first-time feature director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the visual effects supervisor on the previous film, who doesn’t have the same flair for artful composition. Much of Winter’s War looks garish and plastic, with its style ripped off from other, more popular fantasy franchises.
In particular, the first half-hour (set before the events of Snow White) is a blatant Frozen retread, inventing an ice-powered sister for original evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, barely in the movie despite her prominence in the advertising). Freya (Emily Blunt) looks like a cross between Frozen’s Elsa and Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, and her reign of mopey terror is much less fun than Theron’s gleefully evil scenery chewing. Since Snow White is “not well” (and briefly depicted by a body double), her husband enlists the help of huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) to stop Freya from acquiring Ravenna’s sinister magic mirror. Eric’s listless quest reunites him with his long-lost love Sara (Jessica Chastain, with an unforgivable accent), a fellow warrior and Freya protégé (according to the hastily constructed backstory).
Screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin are stuck with an unsolvable studio mandate, and they never figure out how to solve it. The romance between Eric and Sara is unconvincing and underdeveloped, as is the sisterly bond between Ravenna and Freya. Theron’s brief reappearance at the climax is the highlight of the movie, since at least she seems to understand the ridiculousness of the material, and plays it up accordingly. Everyone else looks mildly lost, like they can’t quite locate the person who’s supposed to be the main character of their movie.