Four long years ago, in the land of movies, Snow White and the Huntsmen was a modest hit and unremarkable addition to the recent spate of so-called adult fairy tales that Hollywood’s embraced as a recent strategy for getting new money for old rope (later superseded by the disguised remake). Universal obviously thought there more to be done with the Snow White universe, even if audiences didn’t, but there was a problem. Star Kirsten Stewart allegedly had an affair with director Rupert Sanders, blotting both her franchise and fandom copy book, and sharp eyes observed that the fairest of them all, as far as charisma and screen presence was concerned, was not she but supporting muscle Chris Hemsworth, whose star has remained bright while the former Twilight actress’s has dimmed.
Thus Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s follow up contrives to exclude Snow White from her own kingdom, the character related to a body double shot from behind, and puts Hemsworth’s Celtic lunk centre stage. Because the original (as in first) movie wrapped things up comprehensively, the contortions required to do this are more extreme, and more conspicuous, than you might think. Writers Evan Spilotopoulos and Craig Mazin burn the castle torch at both ends, attempting to break a story that both stretches the canvas of the first movie, allowing for the introduction of a new antagonist and love interest/action partner for the Huntsman (the part henceforth to be known as the prequel section), and build in complications that allow for the return of Charlize Theron’s wicked queen Ravenna – the only character anyone remembers from the last instalment (the part henceforth to be known as the sequel section). All the while the new story, one we’ve never seen as narrator Liam Neeson reminds us in the prologue, perhaps because it’s clunky, attempts to retain those fairy tale elements the kids, and their parents crudely courted with swearing, blood and risqué sexuality, love. There’s a hard hearted ice queen, lovers separated by malicious magic, a Maguffin and some questing across enchanted environs. There’s also a lot of story time required to set all this up.
How much? Well, it’s close to fifty minutes before the questing band are in place and all their goals and character arcs are clearly laid out; that’s nearly half the movie. While we’ve been waiting for this creaky machine to get going, there’s been time to reflect that it all feels a little forced – engineered from the minutes of a sequel committee who wanted to fuse Frozen and Braveheart into a package that would delight the four quadrants of the audience, that’s men, women, children and body fascists.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is undeniably a fair looking movie; it’s well-designed from an artistic point of view and there’s some charming visual effects – giant tortoises covered in moss and flowers for example, but there’s little to stir the emotions or appeal to the inner-child. We’ve seen these story elements many times, configured every which way, and seeing them here, with sops to big kids awkwardly inserted throughout (I don’t ever want to hear the word “wanker” in a family fantasy adventure), you’re left with the feeling it’s all a bit ill-conceived. Time to hang up the axe, Chris.