The Huntsman: Winter's War is not too unlike the first movie in one key way: it doesn't really stick too long in the consciousness once it's finished. It's not that there is a lack of quality in the craft in this (sigh) franchise - the first Snow White from 2012 got Oscar nominations for the costume design and visual effects departments, and it's easy to see why: the work put into the mirror on its own, this gold thing that can unfold in liquid on the floor is in the same ball-park as the T-1000 from decades past, and there is attention paid to all of the aesthetics in these 'kingdoms'. But with the stories, especially in the case of Winter's War, there is the sense of sensing a dearth of original plots. It's not even really a full plot in this film but plot points: this happens and then this happens and then and then and so on, and it cribs from Frozen so much that it's hard to ignore.
It's not that everything from the Disney movie is here, but when you start to describe what this story is about - two sisters in royalty are split apart when one of them (Emily Blunt this time as the sister to Charlize Theron's Wicked Queen) loses her son and takes over her kingdom... which is made of ice since she is the Ice Queen, and she decrees there can no longer be love because her love is lost, so then when two people (Hemsworth, returning as the Huntsman, and Jessica Chastain) fall in love, she splits them apart through trickery and then... it's actually not a prequel but a sequel which involves finding the mirror from the last movie (stolen/taken away, I forget which, it's explained in an exposition dump), and when a big reveal happens for Hemsworth that (spoiler! not really) Chastain is alive, they decide to go after the Ice Queen herself.
So there's a lot of plot here, a lot of twists and turns that do occur, but that main spine isn't too engaging. The Frozen element comes mostly with the Ice Queen and other characters having a love story happen where you don't expect it to (or, I should say, they *do* love each other, but things happen that makes one of them question again if it's possible and, oh, nevermind). What does still work is the humor; Nick Frost returns as one of the dwarfs from the last movie (the late Bob Hoskins is sorely missed though) along with Rob Brydon (remember him from The Trip movies), and both are spot-on with their comic timing, their deliveries, just finding the things in the scenes to naturally liven things up. Some of it's from the dialog, but a good deal of it feels improvised and when lady dwarfs get introduced into the film there's some fun stuff there as well.
All the actors are here to work, and I didn't see them exactly bored during this; Blunt does her best to give her Ice Queen Freya conviction and villainy (and, later on, some sense of true confusion and betrayal), but it's hard to go up against Theron when she owns this role once again of Ravenna. She's not on screen too long, and it feels just slightly contrived how she returns, but she makes her mark as a conniving, devilish presence with aplomb. Curiously Kirsten Stewart is out of this movie, though there are points where it feels like she *should* be in this, even as a cameo (there is one scene where technically Snow White is featured, but it's a double of course). This absence gets felt in a narrative that is all about the other characters, which is fine, except that the script lets them down with an adventure-cum-quest-cum-revenge story that feels watered down or half-baked. And there are even some moments, like with a creature that the characters come across to find the mirror, that isn't a terribly convincing special effect.
I almost feel like I need to write this so I don't forget most of the movie in a few days; it's not *bad* in the sense of it being too stupid or too illogical (though there are certainly points where you think 'yeah, that's a bad idea to, say, make that jump and hope to connect with that building even when you know and acknowledge that it's a bad idea'). If it's bad in any way it doesn't have really any artistic reason to exist aside from it being another check box for Universal studio's current Snow White universe property. To put it another way, when you have Liam Neeson narrating and delivering lines about fairy tales that felt hackneyed 60 years ago, you know there's an issue with something that should be made vs could. It's got entertaining bits but isn't worth rushing out to see unless you're a die-hard fantasy fan, and even with that there's the sense of derivation (if not from Frozen there's Game of Thrones as well).
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