“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is one of THOSE movies, the kind that are very trendy right now, where we start with a narrator saying, “You think you know this story, BUT YOU DON’T! There is a whole different story that you’ve never seen, because we just made it up!” And then you watch, and it actually is like a lot of stories that you’ve seen before, and you think: Why is life so full of deception and despair?
Three-quarters of the movie is an unsolicited sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which ended with the titular princess destroying the wicked queen and returning the kingdom to peace and prosperity. But the first 30 minutes are an unsolicited prequel to that movie, setting the stage for the sequel, which it turns out doesn’t involve Snow White. Got it?
You see, years ago, wicked queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) had a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who was betrayed by her secret boyfriend and became an ice queen, shooting ice out of her fingertips and turning a whole section of the kingdom into a cold, forbidding realm. (See? Totally unlike any story you’ve heard before!) Soured on love forever, Freya decided to become a warlord (warlady), raising an army of orphans (or possibly children she has stolen from their parents; it’s unclear which) to become huntsmen and huntswomen. Two of these children grew up to be Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). They fell in love, even though love was forbidden in Queen Freya’s Bittertopia, and Sara got killed, the end.
Now, several years after the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” it is discovered that the Magic Mirror isn’t just Magic, it is also Evil. Queen Snow White tried to get rid of it, but somehow it fell into the hands of goblins. (Since Kristen Stewart did not return for the film, this information is delivered to us by her friend William, played by Sam Claflin, who returned for the film for two minutes then went home.) Eric the Huntsman and his dwarf friends, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), must find the mirror before Queen Freya does, as surely she would use its evil for her own evil purposes of evil.
And hey, guess what? Ravenna is back! Not dead after all! She was hanging out in the mirror or something. You may recall that she had a brother in the first movie, gentleman by the name of Finn, who helped her out a lot and never mentioned that he had another sister. Well, you should stop recalling that, because Finn doesn’t exist anymore. Anyway, Ravenna is back.
And hey, guess what also? Sara is back, too! Not dead after all! Eric is overjoyed beyond words to learn this, but Ravenna played tricks with their minds and made Sara blame Eric for “abandoning” her. Even after Sara learns the truth, she refuses to love Eric again, but then suddenly she does after all, the end.
This dispirited, portentous goulash of mediocrity was written by Evan Spiliotopoulos (a veteran of many bad straight-to-video Disney sequels) and Craig Mazin (who wrote the “Hangover” films), directed by first-timer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who was in charge of visual effects on “Snow White and the Huntsman”). It has the aura of a movie that was very expensive but poorly thought-out, full of sequences that don’t advance the plot or in any other way justify their existence.
Chris Hemsworth is plenty charming, but it feels like he’s working alone most of the time. His dwarf sidekicks are loathsome, the she-dwarfs they recruit (Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach) are merely sidekick-sidekicks, and Jessica Chastain is stuck playing a character whose actions and motivations rarely make sense. Our villainesses, despite being played by two more sensational actresses, barely register. Who’d have thought we’d miss Kristen Stewart so much?
D (1 hr., 54 min.; )