‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ is visually artistic

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Charlize Theron is currently the most wonderfully wicked film queen in Hollywood. She lit up the screen in 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” and is back in this sequel-prequel “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” Unfortunately, this time Theron takes a back seat to Emily Blunt as Queen Ravenna’s little sister Freya.

Blunt is an accomplished actress, who fills the role with sufficient terror and vulnerability, but Theron so completely dominates her few scenes, you forget everyone else on the set, including hunky Chris Hemsworth, returning as The Huntsman, and Oscar-nominated Jessica Chastain, as Sara, his co-warrior and love interest.

Huntsman2Both Hemsworth and Chastain are perfectly cast in their lead roles. Hemsworth (“Thor”) can’t help but appear naturally heroic, but we were pleasantly surprised to watch the petite Chastain (“The Help”) get down and dirty with enough credibility to battle alongside her co-star. Filmed in England, the dark, but visually magnificent sets are in abundance, while the lavish Colleen Atwood costumes are stunning and gorgeously detailed.

Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, and heavily narrated by Liam Neeson, the story takes a bit too long to set up as a sequel to the prior film before morphing into a prequel. We learn how Ravenna and Freya have a falling out and Freya’s heart gets broken. When she sets up her own kingdom, she explains, “Love is a trick for the weak.” Freya declares to her subjects, “One rule: Do not love” (wonder how that will work out?).

As Queen Freya becomes the abominable ice queen, the film morphs again into a Gothic “Frozen.” Elsa, uh Freya, has her army capture children from other kingdoms to staff her army. Eric (The Huntsman) and Sara aspire to become the best of the best, with honors. As they grow into warriors, they are sent into battle for their queen. When they fall in love, they must conceal their forbidden romance as they plan their escape.

This film was mired in controversy from the beginning. The infamous Sony e-mail hacks revealed an uneven pay scale for its stars. Charlize Theron demanded and was granted a contract renegotiation. Then, Snow White was written out of this film after Kristen Stewart, who played the role, was caught in an affair with the film’s prior director, Rupert Sanders. Both were omitted from this film and the story completely rewritten.

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who worked on “Snow White and the Huntsman” as visual effects supervisor and second unit director, was then hired as this film’s director. Troyan has his moments with visually artistic scenes, but the uneven pacing can be detracting. The numerous mano-a-mano skirmishes are entertaining, but a little too repetitive.

This is a movie with big stars, big sets and big music; but for some, it’s also no big deal. However, the movie is easy to watch, the characters are all likeable, and it’s never offensive. By the time it’s all done, this becomes both a sequel and a prequel. But, because it’s so far removed from the “Snow White” story, it’s really more of a spinoff.

There is so much right with this film, we kept asking why the Disney magic isn’t there. Maybe because it’s a Universal Studios picture is one reason; nevertheless, not much magic. We also wondered when the sharp and witty Emily Blunt would wake up from her self-induced stupor, but seems she was determined the Queen stay cold and detached.

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is 114 minutes and rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. We had to wonder, with everything the Huntsman has done, why was he eventually chosen by the wicked stepmother to do away with Snow White? After two movies, this is the one guy morally incapable of carrying out that hit.

The original film was generally well received but this one will generate mixed reviews. For many reasons, those who enjoy the fantasy genre should find this offering enjoyable and entertaining. More objective viewers might find this “Huntsman” to be a very long couple of hours and not necessarily the fairest one of all.

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Ron & Leigh Martel