THE HUNTSMAN: WINTERS WAR
The Huntsman: Winter's War brings back Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Nick Frost but critically not Kristen Stewart. A large part of this is due to the fact that Stewart and director Rupert Sanders had a highly publicised affair during the production of the first film. You get the impression that this ended acrimoniously and either refused to sign onto a sequel because they were expecting or had heard that the other had, ending with neither returning to the show something it should be that said actually improves the franchise straight out from the starting gate. Sanders has gone off to train his mediocrity on the English-language version of Ghost in the Shell (2017), a project you know is going to suck from the moment you read any of the details about it, while Stewart has gone off to a career that is going to be a quick slide to being a has-been within five years.
I had very low expectations for The Huntsman: Winter's War based on a trailer that seemed to push it only in terms of the CGI effects. I must say I found the film to be better than I expected it to. The new director is Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was previously a visual effects artist and had directed second unit on Snow White and the Huntsman. He is next announced as the revolving door of directors attached to the long-touted remake of Highlander (1986).
For the film, the script is less drawn from Snow White than it has co-opted the basics of Hans Christian Andersens The Snow Queen (1846) in fact, this holds more of The Snow Queen in it than the credited Disney animated adaptation Frozen (2013) did. Emily Blunt is another generic evil queen in the same cardboard cut-out mold that Charlize Theron played in the first film. What must also be said is that while Charlize does return, it feels like she has no place in the story. Moreover, she diverts the end of the story with her reappearance, allowing Emily Blunt, who has been painted as a cruel and tyrannical despot throughout, to undergo an appallingly cliched sentimental deathbed redemption where we are simply supposed to forget the cruelties she has committed throughout because she has a change of heart at the last minute.
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan delivers a film that feels more happy being an epic fantasy than Snow White and the Huntsman did. The story taps more into the mythical adventure cycle that these films run by. Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain come together much better as a screen couple than Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart did. (The only thing that seems to dent their performances is the odd and distracting decision to have both play with Scottish accents). The most fun however is reserved for the dwarves with Nick Frost and in particular Sheridan Smith propping up the show with a good deal of wry banter. Nicolas-Troyan delivers generally far better fantasy action scenes, even if there is nothing in the film that soars with the epic regard of a Peter Jackson. The trailer made the film look like a tiresome parade of pop-up CGI magic but Nicolas-Troyan at least employs these better than it would seem. The only scene that does not work is the encounter in the woods with a troll where clearly the actors line of sight is not matching what is supposedly in front of them during the scene.