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THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR Review

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sheridan Smith, Sophie Cookson, Rob Brydon, Nick Frost

Rating: 12A/PG-13

Running Time: 114 minutes

When Oscar season is over, we get the post-Oscar blues: the period in which cinemas are filled with movies that are clearly suffering from a mild depression as a result of all the festivities coming to a close for another year. These films make no effort to do anything of any significance because they simply can’t be bothered, and assume that audiences can’t be bothered either. They can’t be bothered to be inspiring, engaging, controversial, or even offensive. A case in point, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, a Film that makes so little effort that to get angry at it for its lack of achieving very much is to do it a service it does not deserve. It’s not bad, it’s just not any good.

Despite all the posters saying, “Discover the story before Snow White”, the majority of the film takes place after SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. The story continues with Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who, after having helped Snow White defeat Queen Ravena (Charlize Theron), faces new challenges and new enemies. Both he and his thought-to-be-dead wife, Sara (Jessica Chastain), join forces to fight Ice Queen, and sister to Ravena, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is preparing her highly trained army, of which Eric and Sara were once a part, to conquer the world. But, with magic and returning villains pushing friends and foes to their limits, the lines of loyalty grow more blurred. If only the film was actually this exciting.

To give credit where credit’s due, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan does have a very good visual eye in this debut of his, no doubt aided by his background in VFX; there is good coordination of some impressive effects and many of the costumes are rather eye-popping. However, a background in visual effects tells you everything you need to know about what is wrong with this sequel: like its predecessor, this film is all surface and no substance. Having said that, there are ways a filmmaker can pull off the all-surface-no-substance criticism successfully. The surface just has to be extraordinary. Look at THE REVENANT, a film that is stunning to look at, so stunning in fact that its style is what gives Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning Western its substance. But, because the characters and the story are edge-of-your-seat engaging, the spectacle becomes all the more vivid and jaw-dropping. THE HUNTSMAN doesn’t even come close.

The plot is clichéd, all over the place and, frankly, lazy, using various narrative devices that we’ve seen done before better elsewhere, box-ticking references to other fantasy films: that bit about Sauron continuing to live on in an object from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, that bit where the central trio are walking through the woods in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1, and all that snow leftover from the NARNIA films.

Likewise, the characters are unimaginative and drawn out in the most basic of ways, other than Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Sophie Cookson and a returning Nick Frost, who basically do their own thing in playing the dwarves, unsurprisingly offering the biggest laughs in an otherwise eye-rolling script (but, like in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, why couldn’t the filmmakers employ real short actors, rather than superimposing the heads of bankable British names? Bankable being the answer).

While largely unimaginative, that is not to say the film is entirely void of entertainment value. Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt attempt to achieve a sense of tension between two sisters in threefold: talking in ridiculously deep and breathy voices; having just read ‘How to be a Super Villain’ by JUPITER ASCENDING’s Eddie Redmayne; and maintaining stern looks throughout the film that would neither change if someone had told them that a war had begun or that they were out of milk. Worse though is Chris Hemsworth’s and Jessica Chastain’s Scottish accents, which is based entirely on “hoots mon!” and “och aye/nay” that should be offensive, but is actually the same shade of comedy gold as the mirror, mirror on the wall (who is the most Scottish of them all? That’ll be nay one).

But, what it ultimately boils down to is a movie that is totally inconsequential. It is neither an improvement nor a deterioration on SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN; about the same and a whole load of nothing.

Its visual effects may be impressive (often downright weird – keep an eye out for goblins that look like a cross between Andy Serkis’s Caesar and the Na’avi aliens), but because one has nothing invested in the plot or any of the characters (other than trying to figure out where exactly they’re from – based on their accents, perhaps the Narnia setting is more apt than originally thought), the visuals lack in weight and consequence. No one bothers to make an effort, no one bothers to hire real short actors, and no one especially bothers to look up how to do their accents properly. As a result, you quickly find yourself forgetting about the film in its entirety, going in one ear and out the other, which, in itself, is more damning that if it were outright offensive, but longer-lasting. Let the post-Oscar blues commence.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR is out in UK cinemas on the April 4, and in US cinemas on the April 22.

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