YOU could be forgiven if 2012’s gritty, revisionist fantasy blockbuster Snow White and the Huntsman had long since faded from memory. Whether you wanted it or not, here we have more of that fantastical story but with one crucial change: there’s no Snow White this time around.
Attempting to function as both backstory and a continuation of what we saw last time, The Huntsman: Winter’s War focuses on how the titular character (played once again by Chris Hemsworth) became so revered.
After a needlessly extended prologue, we settle into a time that’s several years after he defeated the Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) but that doesn’t mean all are safe from harm. The Huntsman sets out to stop Ravenna’s equally formidable sister The Ice Queen (Emily Blunt) from acquiring the all-important Magic Mirror and conquering the Kingdom, with a skilled warrior (Jessica Chastain) and some helpful dwarves by his side.
This unneeded, messy and rather dreary prequel/sequel does nothing to up the ante, functioning instead as a lackadaisical hodgepodge of other, far better fantasy properties; from Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia to Game of Thrones and Frozen, it leaves no beloved fantasy stone unturned.
Dodgy Scottish accents aside, Hemsworth and Chastain do their best with what little they’re given but the trouble is the characters are underwritten to the point where it’s really hard to care much less root for them to succeed. And despite their gameness to leap into the many choppily edited and thus incoherent blade-wielding fight sequences, there’s little chemistry between the two needed to make their love story connect.
Rarely has the heroine of her own story been so dutifully chucked from a follow-up and Snow White’s non-appearance (save for one fleeting flashback) is perhaps the real kick in the teeth of this one.
Some behind the scenes controversy might be to blame or is simply that the studio somehow thinks audiences care more about The Huntsman than Snow White simply because it’s Thor playing him? Star power alone does not a good film make. Whatever the reason, her absence is distractingly conspicuous throughout.
It’s not completely without its pleasures; there’s some fun to be had with British acting treasures like Nick Frost, Rob Brydon and Sheridan Smith as the comical dwarves chucking in knowing one-liners and colloquial insults.
Their light-hearted banter as the band of heroes go on their quest through enchanted forests and the like to retrieve the famous mirror that’s no longer on the wall is welcome comic relief from an otherwise quite drab affair. Bereft of much real invention or feeling and beset by instantly forgettable set-pieces, this is a rather lumpen fantasy follow-up that, for all its CGI bells and whistles, falls disappointingly flat.