The Huntsman: Winter's War is as beautiful as a fragrance advertisement and twice as silly.
Logic is largely absent in the film's 114-minute life. The all-star cast is bound to a script that seems as if it required less effort to write than a fart. The movie actively evades the two reasons it should exist — fight scenes and extra campy performances from the film's leading actresses.
But the film's problems stem from the very first. This sequel is completely unnecessary.
In 2012, director Rupert Sanders gave us Snow White and the Huntsman, a reimagining of the classic tale of stepmother killing stepdaughter (Kristen Stewart played Snow White) by poison apple. And now, four years later and down Sanders and Stewart, we're going back in time for a movie that's part prequel, part sequel to find out what things were like before the poison apples and the dwarves.
Thanks to a handy narrator, we find out that Ravenna (Charlize Theron) — Snow White's bitchy, witchy, evil stepmother — has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) who, by some freak accident of her genetic lineage, has the power to control ice.
In the present, Snow White has killed the evil queen. And Freya wants her dead sister's magic mirror, so she sends her army (the Huntsmen, though not the titular Huntsman, who is on Team Snow White) to fetch it. The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and his own group of pals attempt to keep the mirror from falling into her hands, mostly ineptly. In the middle of all of this, there's also a flashback romance between the Huntsman and his old Huntswoman wife, played by Jessica Chastain.
What we're ultimately left with is a two-hour journey on the struggle bus. But it isn't all bad. Sometimes the movie gets into the coveted territory of being so bad, it's good.
1) Queen Freya's kingdom is like the town in Footloose
The most entertaining part of this entire film is its commitment to telling a story about love. Queen Freya (Blunt) is essential to that. She was betrayed as a young woman, and consequently she doesn't really know what love is. (Nor does she want you to show her.)
So Freya comes up with a rule for her far-north kingdom: No one is to fall in love with one another. Thus, her land is like the town in Footloose, but instead of banning dancing, it bans love.
There is no explanation for how this is enforced or how it's even feasible. When you factor in that the kingdom's only inhabitants are fit men and women who are sweaty and pumped on endorphins from riding horses and fighting all day, you just want to laugh at what a fantastic idiot Freya is.
But apparently the "no love" rule has only been broken one time — the relationship between Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain, as Eric's long-lost wife) that we see in the movie.
2) The accents don't make a lot of sense
If you've been waiting four long years for Jessica Chastain to appear in a Snow White-adjacent movie, kick ass, and mangle a Scottish accent, then you can die happy.
For no reason at all, Chastain's Sara and Hemsworth's Eric speak, depending on the minute and if Chastain and Hemsworth feel like it, in thick, muddled Scottish (though at times they sound Irish) accents. Hemsworth utilized the accent in the first movie, so for continuity's sake the bad accent survived and now has a partner.
But then you have Theron's Ravenna vamping it up in a vaguely British accent that sounds as if it's been doused in dinner theater and the broken dreams of a failed drama major. Her sister doesn't sound at all like her, which leads me to conclude that Ravenna and Freya went to different boarding schools.
And Ravenna went to the one run by drag queens.
3) Two words: feather mask
The movie can never decide on Freya's powers. At first, she freezes things. That seems like a very straightforward superpower. She could conceivably strangle and threaten the ecosystems of her neighbors, forcing them to bend to her will. But that'd be too simple.
So Freya has the brilliant idea of hiring child soldiers and grooming them into Huntsmen — the best warriors of the North. In order to keep them obedient she displays a new power. When she builds walls of ice, she has the power to change what people see in them.
It's not the most straightforward power, and it needs a lot of things to work out in order for it to be effective (someone looking into the ice, someone not realizing this is her power, Freya not being distracted, Freya knowing the psyche of her soldiers, etc.). As silly as this add-on power is, it ultimately works.
Finally, Freya has a magic feather mask. When she puts on the mask, her consciousness is projected into an owl (apparently made of snow), and she can use it to spy on people. After all, she needs to make sure people don't fall in love, and the best way to do that is spy on them with a completely inconspicuous snow-white owl.
4) Charlize Theron's camp clinic
The biggest failure of the movie is that Charlize Theron is in it for far less than 20 minutes. Every single second she's in is a treat.
Whether she's morphing into a murderous, weird octo-scorpion or seducing her next victim or playing renn-faire footsie with her husband, she's taking monstrous cuts at the flimsy script and adding a level of camp that's impossible not to appreciate. It's just a shame there isn't more of it.
5) This movie should have been called Freya vs. Ravenna: Dawn of the Cheekbones
There are plenty of components in this movie that look devastatingly cheap. The sequel had $55 million less to play with in its budget, and it shows. The fight scenes are scaled down, the special effects aren't as frequent, and the sets feel stagnant.
But the film didn't cut corners when it came to costumes and makeup. Theron's Ravenna looks the part of the grand, opulent sorceress she's meant to be. She's the kind of villain that lives in a fairy tale Karl Lagerfeld tells to scare tiny children.
Freya's icy airlessness comes through in the different robes and layers of armor she wears. When she walks, she clinks and jangles — weighed down by ornate crystals and shimmery jewels, seemingly painted on her porcelain skin. Her Huntsmen look like they're part of The Hunger Games' District 12 — decked out in alternating layers of leather and shaggy rags.
Seeing all these good-looking people decked out in amazing costumes almost makes you forget that there's very little else to like beyond the movie's design and utter ridiculousness. The keyword being: almost.
The Huntsman: Winter's War is playing throughout the country.