My wife and I wanted to see a movie last night, and the far more popular movie in town was completely sold out. So we went with The Huntsman: Winter’s War. And didn’t regret it, to be honest. It’s a lunatic movie, really, with a story that makes no sense at all, and above all, a movie where the biggest question is ‘why did this even get made?’ And in the middle of all it, there’s a sweet and tender love story, nicely acted and lovely.
Let’s see; where to start? This is the sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. That one starred Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as wicked Queen Ravena. It wasn’t bad, though why anyone thought we needed to see the extended backstory to the Snow White story escapes me.
Apparently, though, we didn’t just need to see the Snow White backstory, but a detailed and extensive narrative exploration of the whole other mythology on which Snow White rests. So this starts off as a sort of prequel to the earlier movie, but time passes, and we end up with a parallel story, which makes occasional passing reference to the events of SWATH. Most of which I’d forgotten. Like, didn’t Charlize Theron die in the other movie? And wasn’t it The Huntsman who killed her? Or him, with Kristen Stewart’s help? So why is Evil Queen Ravena here, in this movie? (She says she’s neither alive nor dead. Half-dead. Living in that mirror.) Getting killed, again, by Chris Hemsworth? But I thought that already happened. Or would happen, soon. These movies link how?
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. We begin with Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), Ravenna’s sister. She meets a guy, falls in love, gets pregnant, intends to marry him, has the baby. (Who? Snow White? The baby is a threat to Ravenna because she’s going to grow up to become Fairest of Them All. Snow White, right? Kristen Stewart, right? What’s going on?) But the fiancee guy sets the nursery on fire, killing the baby. Freya turns psychotic, leaves, goes into solitude, then raises an army and starts invading other neighboring ‘Northern’ kingdoms.
At which point, as my wife pointed out, the movie turns into a demented version of Frozen. I’m totally not kidding. Freya’s superpower involves ice. She can turn people into ice sculptures, and shoot ice spicules at them, and build ice walls, and she creates an entire castle made of ice. She’s Sociopath Elsa. Remember Olaf, the comic relief snowman? There’s an owl who serves the same purpose. Remember the rock people/dwarves? There are dwarfish equivalent characters in this. It’s Frozen, without Anna. Oh, wait, I forgot Jessica Chastain; there’s also a sort of Anna.
(Seriously? Frozen? Let it go.)
Freya is also, kind of, Daenarys Targaryen, building her own army by kidnapping children, who she raises to become soldiers. (And we see her army; all thirty of them). The best of her fighters she rewards, with the proviso that they never fall in love. All love is strictly forbidden. All love: Agape, Filio, Eros. Only, you know, kids will be kids, and her two favorites fall for each other: Eric (Chris Hemsworth), and Sara (Jessica Chastain). Get together in a really romantic hot spring. And Psycho Elsa/Freya finds out, and Eric is exiled. But before he leaves, both he and Sara are shown false visions; she sees him just leaving her, and he sees her dying. So they don’t look for each other much. For seven years.
But, it turns out, someone back in Snow White Land (where Snow White lives; remember? Kristen Stewart? Who is not in this movie, but whose character is constantly referred to?) has stolen the magic mirror. And Sara, now Freya’s main captain, has been tasked with finding it. As has Eric/Huntsman. And his two dwarf sidekicks, Nion and Gryff (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon). Quest narrative! Sara and Eric are initially pretty hostile to each other, on account of their false visions, but they work through that pretty quickly. Though they do have seven years of separation issues to work through.
But it was really sweet, the developing love story between Sara and Eric. It really was the one thing in the movie that made emotional sense, and the one story element in the movie that wasn’t completely ludicrous. It didn’t hurt that it was Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain, two immensely engaging actors. Especially Hemsworth, who affects this Scottish-sounding brogue which renders a third of his lines incomprehensible, not that it ever matters. He’s charming, and self-deprecating, and he carries a ridiculous movie almost effortlessly. And Chastain is fierce and strong and Katniss-good with a bow and arrow. Wonderful physical performance.
You know that thing they always do in movies like this? They’re in a scene together, and talking, and suddenly their heads come together, and he’s about to kiss her. Only she pulls a knife, and holds it against his throat. Only he disarms her, and flings her around, so her back is against a wall. And they’re inches apart, breathing heavily. And then she breaks away. So romantic, even though it doesn’t make a particle of sense.
Anyway, in the diva-off between Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, Jessica wins going away. She’s fierce, and intelligent, and she has Chris Hemsworth to act across from. Charlize chews the scenery in a most satisfying way, while Emily Blunt’s persona is too sane, frankly, and too bright to really work all that well in a part as hare-brained as Ice Princess/Freya/Elsa/Loony McLoonybins.
The last scene of the movie made me giggle aloud in the theater, and giggle again when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I mean, it’s standard confrontation-against-bad-guy stuff; Chris Hemsworth’s trying to whack Charlize with an axe, and she fights him off by shooting black tar things out of her, which he has to block with his axe. What made me laugh is imagining how they filmed it; in a sound studio, with Charlize Theron waving her arms around menacingly, with big two-armed spell-casting gestures throughout.
And yet, at the end of the battle scene, Eric and Sara, Chris and Jess, our heroes, get to hug and kiss, and that love story, the only thing in the movie worth watching really, gets the screen time. It’s a demented movie. But two good actors made one small part of it work. How hard we work for the smallest pleasures.