For those who believe sequels are and integral part of the filmmaking process, I present the following recent exhibits: “The Hangover Part II,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ted 2.” Yes, I realize there are also other examples where the sequel bested the original, such as “The Godfather Part II,” “Superman II” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” but these are extremely few and far between. Now comes The Huntsman: Winter’s War, another part two of a film franchise that fits more than comfortably into the completely unnecessary category than one which was overwhelming demanded.
When we last left our intrepid huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, “In the Heart of the Sea”), he and the presumptive Snow White (Kristen Stewart, “American Ultra”) were battling the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, coming off the great “Mad Max: Fury Road”), and practically destroying her, as directed by Rupert Sanders in his debut.
However, because that first movie (“Snow White and the Huntsman,” by the way) made more at the box office than it cost to make (it’s a called a “profit,” kids), the inevitable second installment was called for. Remember, in part one, we were led to believe that Stewart was fairer (or more beautiful) than Theron, (just like the producers believe that a sequel would be a good idea, I suppose).
However, since Stewart exhibited a rare bout of good sense about a role, her character is no longer available to us in The Huntsman: Winter’s War (there’s a few awkward references, but that’s about it). Instead, we’re given the queen’s younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt, “Sicario”), who has a baby that dies and then turns into a character from Disney’s “Frozen,” only that she kidnaps innocent children and trains them to be Winter Soldiers (sorry, it had to be written). And, since the Norse God Thor (Hemsworth’s alter ego) is unable to handle things all by himself, Jessica Chastain (“The Martian”) arrives as a female huntsman, for whatever that’s worth.
Still, despite three terrific female actors (all of whom have won or been nominated for Golden Globes and/or Academy Awards), their characters are dependent on Hemsworth, even though he is less a part of the plot than he was in the original picture. He swings a mean axe and can fight with the best of them, but when he begins to talk, well, all bets are off.
Replacing Sanders behind the camera, is visual effects standout Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (also a first-time helmer), who makes an interestingly dark and FX laden product complete with small scale battles, bizarre animals, fairies, animated plants and other exotic creatures. Unfortunately, the gold-plating is less than satisfying and his movie still draws comparisons to the first film, which — as mentioned several times already — was not so special in the first place and left few calling for a second effort.
Teenage girls, who flocked (incredulously) to the 2012 version, have now gone on to more “intriguing” motion pictures (the “Divergent” and “Hunger Games” franchises, among them), leaving The Huntsman: Winter’s War without much of a political base — much like a Hollywood version of John Kasich to be as topical as possible. And with “Captain America: Civil War” less than a week away and “Zootopia” still on top, it’s going to be a long, long, dreary “Winter” for this production.