The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Since I wasn't impressed with Snow White & the Huntsman, I passed on seeing this in theaters. Turns out, that was a mistake. This film is bigger, bolder, and more engaging than its predecessor. Both a prequel and sequel to the original, it features familiar and new characters in a daring adventure.
The women of the family all have magic. It's in their blood. Ravenna (Charlize Theron) uses her magic to seduce and murder kings, taking over their kingdoms and amassing tremendous power and wealth. Her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), has yet to show any magical abilities. She's more interested in marrying the father of her child. He's engaged to another woman, but they make secret plans to escape. Then, disaster strikes -- while waiting for him in the garden, Freya sees her child's tower in flames. She's too late to save her daughter. "It had to be done," her lover says.
Furious, she lashes out at him -- and turns him to ice. Freya uses her powers to win a northern kingdom. Freya abducts and trains an army of children, with only one rule: do not love. Her finest warriors, Eric (Chris Helmsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) cannot keep this promise. Freya retaliates by making them fight for one another -- and then killing Sara right before her Huntsman's eyes. Furious and heartbroken, he runs into the woods. Years later, after Snow White destroys Ravenna, she elicits Eric's help in recovering Ravenna's mirror -- someone stole it, while it traveled through the woods. As it turns out, its secrets are darker than any of them could have imagined...
The primary focus of this film, beyond the fantasy setting, is one of love -- between lovers, among friends, and with sisters. Emotional dynamics dominate the script, with betrayals, unexpected affections, and intellectual understanding coming to each character, on their individual journey. The secondary characters include rough, brisk dwarves for comic relief, but even one dwarf couple has a cute little love story. The story moves at a rapid pace, giving just enough of a taste for this magical world to inspire curiosity and the desire to experience more of it. The cast is great, although Theron and Blunt steal most of the scenes they're in. Their chemistry is so great, I wished we'd seen more with them, and less of the outside forces.
While not deep or even particularly memorable, the script is fun and the costuming design incredible. The magic on display is unique and inventive, and the climax has all the right components to be moving, including self-sacrifice. It does emulate Tolkien from time to time, but that's not a bad thing. I enjoy happy endings.
A man and woman kiss, in the woods and together in a hot spring (it's implied they're naked, but we see nothing); she says she is "married" to him in secret. This same couple later passionately kisses and removes one another's shirts before laying down together (we see part of her bare side). A child is born out of wedlock. Dwarves make suggestive remarks to one another.
Lots of British slang and profanity (bloody, bollocks, git, etc).
Scenes of warfare. People are stabbed and shot with arrows. The huntsman wipes out goblins; a girl sets them on fire. Nothing too gory.
The queens use magic, illusions, and deception against one another and their enemies.