The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

huntsAs fantasy movies go, this wasn’t too bad. Harmless really. I expected it to be a prequel but actually it functions as both prequel and sequel, in that it bookends the first movie (Snow White and the Huntsman, something of a box-office hit back in 2012) with a section prior to the original and the remainder set after it, all the while cleverly avoiding Snow White herself  altogether other than in some general passing comments.

This is, of course, due to all the furor over the original films backstage gossip, something about rising star Kristen Stewart (Snow White) cheating on her then-lover (whoever he was) with the films director, Rupert Sanders, which has resulted in this follow-up missing both.  Its like making an Alien film without Ripley or a Blade Runner film without Deckard- hey, it could be done and might not be such a bad idea. But would a risk-aversive studio do such a thing if it didn’t really have to?

In this case, they obviously figured they really had to. Still, it does see the return of Chris Hemsworth as the titular Huntsman and the great as ever Charlize Theron as villainess Ravenna. With Emily Blunt thrown in as extra Evil Queen and the brilliant Jessica Chastain as a new female hero and love-interest for the Huntsman, its executed really well and is clearly a triple-A production. Sure, it’s pretty much a Lord of the Rings-lite kind of fantasy, but I well recall old fantasy films clunkers like Hawk the Slayer, Krull and the original Clash of the Titans (hey I know they each have their fans, don’t shoot me), and compared to them this isn’t bad at all. The fantasy genre is pretty hard to pull off without looking silly or camp and this really does work quite well.

Theron is a great villain and Chastain a great heroine, both charismatic and impressive in physical roles (particularly Chastain which surprised me). A spin-off with just Theron sparring against Chastain would be a great idea in my book. Meanwhile the ever-reliable Hemsworth gets by with his natural charm and again reminds me how he would have been a fantastic Kirk in those Trek reboots. Clearly this is a better cast than such silly fantasy films deserve but we’re in an era where fantasy films= lots of CGI spectacle and that’s what gets bums on cinema seats on a Saturday night. I rather hope that one day we’ll see a big adult fantasy done right (and I REALLY hope it’s a definitive Conan movie, personally) but while this isn’t it, it’s not a bad way to while away a couple of hours.

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