Blu-ray Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

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A considerable amount of talent was assembled for the cast of The Huntsman: Winter's War, which serves as both sequel and prequel to 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman. Returning from the earlier film are Charlize Theron as Snow White's stepmother, the evil Queen Ravenna. Also back is Chris Hemsworth as Eric the Huntsman, who in the first film was assigned the task of killing Snow White. Due to behind-the-scenes drama (read: tabloid fodder) surrounding the first film, Kristen Stewart is nowhere to be seen as Snow White. The first film's director Rupert Sanders is also absent, replaced for this outing by first-timer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Winter's War shifts the focus from Snow White to the Frozen phenomenon, with Emily Blunt joining the cast as Ravenna's sister, Freya the Ice Queen.

The film is now available on Blu-ray, 4K UltraHD, standard DVD, and Digital HD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. 
Huntsman Winters War Chris Hemsworth (375x380).jpg While it may be that Nicolas-Troyan lacked the experience to truly succeed with a $115 million budget tent-pole production, Winter's War had a relatively low standard to live up to. Despite strong efforts by Theron, Hemsworth, and Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman was a strangely lukewarm blockbuster. As a follow up, Winter's War is roughly equally entertaining. Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen is acknowledged as an inspiration here, but the Frozen-influence doesn't reach 'rip-off' levels in terms of actual plot points. It's just kind of weird that the filmmakers obviously tried to glom onto that particular franchise in order to boost their commercial viability in light of the move away from the Snow White angle.

Jumping back several decades, we meet up with a pint-sized, pre-huntsman version of Eric (Conrad Khan), training and living under Freya’s strong-handed direction. As a result of losing a child, Freya has forbidden love among the young future warriors she commands. As we all know however, love is one emotion that can’t be suppressed. Young Eric and huntswoman-to-be Sara (Niamh Walter as a youth, Jessica Chastain as an adult) develop a strong bond that eventually becomes a full-fledged romance. 

Huntsman Winters War Jessica Chastain (380x253).jpg Frozen-hearted Freya cruelly separates Eric and Sara, tricking Eric into believing his true love has been slain. Shifting to the era of adult Eric, much of Winter's War is turned over to the search for the now-deceased Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) stolen Magic Mirror. Freya can use the mirror's power to increase her already formidable strength. As Ravenna, Theron’s role is minimized considerably this time. Mild spoiler alert: her inevitable resurrection doesn’t make much sense. As it progresses, excellent visual effects and production design can't quite cover up the more convoluted of Winter's War's plot developments.

In all honesty, some additional action set pieces would’ve possibly elevated the film above mere competence. There's a huge battle involving gigantic goblins that is genuinely exciting. That's the type of thrill ride audiences crave from a movie like this. Chastain isn't given enough to work with as Eric's love interest Sara, but when she is allowed to fight she commands attention quite effectively. A quartet of dwarve characters—Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Doreena (Alexandra Roach), and Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith)—join forces with Eric in search of the Magic Mirror. Like much of Winter's War, the humor is a bit rickety. But overall the film is an acceptable time-passer that should be relatively entertaining for fans of the first film.
Huntsman Winters War BD (296x380).jpg As expected, Universal provides top-notch tech specs including a beautiful high definition transfer and lossless audio in both DTS:X and DTS-HD MA 7.1 (the latter was screened for this review). Special features are fairly plentiful, including audio commentary by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. There's also a gag reel, four deleted scenes (with optional Nicolas-Troyan commentary), and several featurettes under the banner "Winter's Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman: Winter's War." The five short pieces total about 35 minutes, with the highlight being "Magic All Around" which explore the film's impressive visual effects. A standard DVD and Digital HD copy are part of the Blu-ray package (which offers both the theatrical cut and a six-minute-longer extended version).

Box office returns weren't strong enough to keep The Huntsman viable as a blockbuster franchise. But given the generally limp quality of the 2012 original, Winter's War isn't actually any worse of a movie. That may be an exceptionally backhanded compliment, but if you're jonesing for a Chris Hemsworth fix and can't wait for Thor: Ragnarok then give it a spin.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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