Family Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (PG-13)

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TheHuntsmanWintersWar ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 114 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This prequel/sequel to the preceding film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ follows the same kind of fairy-tale formula, with feuding sisters, long-lost lovers, and epic wars. Lots of violence, including orphaned children turned into warriors who fight and kill humans, goblins, and other creatures; some bloody fights, including stabbings, hand-to-hand combat, and various scenes with corpses or skeletons; lots of people dying, including from poisonings or executions; some kissing, implied nudity, and a couple of implied sex scenes; sexually themed humor; and the death of a baby.

‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ works surprisingly well as both a prequel and a sequel to the preceding ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ The heavily female-centered story boasts beautiful visual effects and a sense of humor sorely lacking from the original.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a surprise—in a good way. Beautifully designed, with a nicely female-focused story, comedic lightness, and a fantastically charming performance from the hunky Chris Hemsworth, “Winter’s War” gets the job done.

A simultaneous prequel and sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman” that lost its titular “Snow White” after actress Kristen Stewart left the franchise, “Winter’s War” has seemed unnecessary from the start. Why draw out this story? But then “Frozen” happened, taking the entire pop culture world by storm—and how “Winter’s War” resets itself by taking some cues from that Disney phenomenon makes for an unexpectedly enjoyable film.

“Winter’s War” tells two stories: A backstory for the Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth, of “In the Heart of the Sea”), whom we saw fight at Snow White’s side in the last film against the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, of “Prometheus”), and a return to Eric’s story, after Ravenna’s defeat, as he tries to reclaim the evil golden mirror that gave the queen her powers and that has since disappeared.

“Long before happily ever after,” the film begins, Ravenna had a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt, of “Into the Woods”), who didn’t seem to have the same magical powers—until a personal tragedy unleashed her ability to harness snow, ice, and the cold. (Elsa from “Frozen,” anyone?) The Ice Queen went to create her own kingdom in the north and raised an army of children as her “huntsmen,” battling the other rulers in the area in an attempt to unite it all under Freya.

Ravenna would have the south, but Freya would have the north—and she would attempt to ban love. “In my kingdom, there is but one law: Do not love. It is a sin, and I will not forgive it,” she warns her child soldiers.

But Eric, who grew up as one of Freya’s best fighters, didn’t listen—and neither did his lover, Sarah (Jessica Chastain, of “The Martian”), the other strongest huntsman. Yet when Freya learned of their plan to leave her and be together, she divided them, leaving Eric to wander for seven years, join up with Snow White, and then be called upon to find Ravenna’s discord-spreading mirror once it goes missing. Along with the dwarves Nion (Nick Frost, of “The Boxtrolls”) and Gryff (Rob Brydon, of “Cinderella”), Eric needs to track down the mirror—unless some people from his past find him first.

How all these characters fit together is one of the strongest elements of “Winter’s War.” Theron was undoubtedly the best part of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and her return here is similarly delicious; she’s so villainous and alluring that she takes up the whole screen. But Blunt and Chastain are excellent additions, and their serious, no-nonsense characters allow for Hemsworth to loosen up a bit. His cheekiness and flirtatiousness are great additions here, livening things and giving the film some solidly comedic moments.

It’s not like the story is particularly well-written, and the dialogue is often corny, and too much of the film feels like it’s patched together by lifting elements of “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.” But “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a film with very specifically great parts, like the performances and the costume design—every single thing Blunt and Theron wear are astonishing works of art that should be admired, from capes to masks to jewelry—and what it does well, you won’t forget.

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