(Spoiler alert: The plot of the movie will be discussed in detail, so please do not read this before watching. Not that there is much to spoil, though.)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a wonderful counter-example of how an all white cast of superstars can still fail to impress. It is mindboggling how a movie starring Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron could fall so flat. We’re talking about one Oscar win and three nominations, three Golden Globe wins and six nominations, as well as six BAFTA nominations between the ladies… and then we have Thor. Surely we can’t go wrong with that?
The problem is that the storyline is an appalling mess. The first part of the movie (the prequel) is about the relationship between Ravenna and Freya. Ravenna, a powerful sorceress, has the ambition to rule and she is not beneath murder to achieve it. Freya, on the other hand, respected and revered her sister. Without magical powers, she seemed contented with her rather domestic ambition to start a family with her lover. Tragedy struck and Freya’s hidden ice powers surfaced.
It was here that the story shifted its focus to Freya. Still tormented by the loss of her baby, Freya had children kidnapped from their families in a demented obsession to ‘free’ them from the pain of love. The children were then trained in combat and grew up to be the titular Huntsmen. Eric and Sara were her two best Huntsmen, and predictably, they fell in love.
The love story was supposed to drive the story, but it was unconvincing at best. Sure, they grew up together, but it was in a strict environment that hardly left space for feelings. It is going to take more than just a few lines and two brief scenes of them together to convince us that it is a love worth dying for. To make matters worse, the lovers were almost immediately separated, and then we were told that the events of the previous movie have taken place and the whole focus shifts to Eric and his companions’ quest to retrieve Ravenna’s magical mirror. All in the space of minutes. Poor dude didn’t even get to mourn his loss on screen.
The writers should have worked with what they already have, because from then on, the story got increasingly jumbled. We have some detective work, the reappearance of Sara, they met more dwarves, a random fight scene with monsters, unresolved misunderstanding between Eric and Sara, romance subplot among the dwarves, Ravenna got resurrected, and some bad CGI. It was as if the movie could not decide if it wanted to be a heist movie, Frozen, Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings.
I would argue that the focus of the movie should have been Freya, and to a certain degree, the other women in the story. The women’s stories were the only aspect of the movie that I enjoyed. The dynamics of Freya and Ravenna’s relationship was interesting, especially when contrasted with the bland relationship between Eric and Sara. I was captivated with how Ravenna, true to her character, immediately assumed command the moment she returned and we could see Freya’s bubbling rage at having to play second fiddle again. Furthermore, Ravenna could tell Freya was unhappy, but in her mind, Freya was still the little sister she could manipulate. She was unaware, or just didn’t care, that Freya has changed. Compelling character developments; ones that I wished they had focused on.
You see, with Freya and Ravenna, we could have had a gripping story about two powerful sorceresses in a devastating rivalry. We could have a movie about Freya, who after years of being in Ravenna’s shadow, is unwilling to let go of everything she has amassed for herself. It could have the two sisters, with their contrasting ideologies, fight for what they believe they deserve. Freya, with her delusion that kidnapping children was the right thing to do, would give us compelling drama when she realized how wrong she had been, and channeled her fury at her sister.
Unfortunately, we were stuck with Eric, who had the personality of a rock. It wasn’t the first time that interesting female characters get sidelined in favour of a dull male character. Even Sara had a better story waiting to be told, about the years she spent being separated from Eric – she was physically and emotionally scarred, so whatever happened must have been tragic. In addition, the female dwarf Bromwyn was a character more complex than all of the males combined. She was a resourceful treasure hunter, and she did not need rescuing of any sort (if anything, she was the one doing the rescuing). She knew what she wanted and had no qualms working towards her goal. Definitely someone I would want to spend more time watching, rather than the male dwarves making tasteless sexist jokes.
Tragically, what we got was Eric grinning stupidly at us for a large percentage of the movie, and we will just have to live with the what-ifs.