The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/23/16
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, cameos by Sophie Cookson, Jadey Duffield, Liam Neeson

Pretty, but dumb. A pointless and unnecessary prequel/sequel to "Snow White And The Huntsman" (2012) that reduces Snow White to a passing acknowledgement. Prior to Snow White's birth, Queen Ravenna's (Charlize Theron) sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) becomes the cold-hearted Ice Queen and establishes a kingdom of her own in the Northern territories. There, she enslaves children and trains them to be soldiers. Two of her best warriors turn out to be Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), and they commit the unforgivable sin of falling in love. Presumed dead after a fierce battle with Freya's forces, Eric's body is thrown into a river. He somehow manages to survive, and when we see him next we learn that Snow White is not well and wishes to banish the toxic magic mirror from her kingdom. Unfortunately, Freya learns of the mirror and wishes to possess it, which in a roundabout way brings Ravenna back to life. The climax pits sister against sister and the humans against both of them.

It's an attractive film, but despite the wealth of talent involved, it comes across as predictable, dull, and hopelessly flat. Jessica Chastain delivers a delightfully strong and fierce physical performance and is arguably the highlight of the film. Emily Blunt is wonderful as the cruel and broken-hearted Ice Queen, and Charlize Theron is deliciously wicked and stunningly beautiful as Ravenna (apart from her hideous shoes). In fact, I think I liked her more in this film than the previous one. She's simply evil in this film, as opposed to just being bat-shit crazy. And then there's Chris Hemsworth, who is just an affable doofus as well as a hunky piece of eye candy for the ladies. And really, he's the only reason the film exists in the first place. Also in the eye candy department are a couple of really hot huntswomen (Sophie Cookson and Jadey Duffield?).

The visual effects are quite good for the most part, but the action scenes are blunt and uninteresting. Only Ms. Chastain's fight scenes show any sort of energy and grace. Dwarves are thrown into the mix as unnecessary comedic and romantic relief, and the film would have fared far better without them. Once again, the film reminded me a lot of "Willow" (1988), except on a much smaller scale. It's a pleasant enough time waster, but don't expect depth or greatness from it.