'The Huntsman: Winter's War' Review: Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain Flail in a 'Fairy-Tale Fail'

Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron in 'The Huntsman: Winter's War'. Credit: Giles Keyte
2 stars (out of 4)

Once upon a time, there lived a wicked queen who longed to be as beautiful as Snow White. Try as she might, the royal could not defeat this fair maiden. Her vanity and thirst for power ultimately became her downfall.

This film isn’t about them.

But, hey, if you’re interested in a dreary side story about how the queen’s sister tries to come between the huntsman and a Katniss Everdeen wannabe, here ya go!

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (out April 22) lies somewhere between a prequel and a sequel to 2012’s Snow White & The Huntsman. That’s what happens when the most interesting character in the original film — Charlize Theron’s evil Ravenna — is decidedly killed off, while the franchise heroine — Kristen Stewart’s Snow White — ends up in a sordid offscreen drama with the director. Just like the previous installment, however, the spectacle is a big-budget fairy-tale fail.

First we turn the pages back to the start of Ravenna’s reign. Heavy is the crown. As is her obsession with persuading her loving and pregnant younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), to go to the dark side. She gets her wish after the infant mysteriously dies and the baby daddy ditches her. A rage-filled Freya turns into an ice queen and taps into her frozen-to-the-touch super powers. Think Queen Elsa minus the theatrical singing vocals.

Double the divas = double the delicious fun, right? Alas, the complicated relationship between these twisted sisters merely serves as a prologue to a dull main event. Theron is offscreen for a full hour, presumably reading better scripts.

We're left with the second-tier characters. While Snow White reigns in her respective kingdom, over in the north, Freya is raising an army of soldiers in lieu of children. Her rules in the castle are simple: 1. Don’t fall in love. 2. Obey. 3. Don't fall in love. That spells trouble for her most impressive warriors, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who like to sneak off and make out with each other. Freya builds a literal ice wall between them. In her spare time, she plots a way to get her hands on her dead big sis’ magical mirror.

It's a jumbled exposition that never finds its emotional or structural center. Hemsworth, Chastain, Theron and Blunt don't even bother to speak in the same Irish brogue-y accent. No wonder a narrator (the voice of Liam Neeson) must constantly fill in the blanks.

With Stewart out of the picture, Chastain must pick up the sword in the warrior role. She knows how to kick butt in a fight. Great. Yet just like her predecessor, she can't forge a connection with Hemsworth. (Is it the character or the actor? Think about it.) No matter how many times she and Eric are supposedly killed in battle, their playtime in the forest is a snooze. Come to think of it, why is this couple even in the movie? To preach earnest drivel about love conquering all? Ugh. Unless Sara is launching one of her arrows at Snow White's poisoned apple, she should have been jettisoned in an early draft. 

And yet, these milquetoast characters get more screen time than the fire-and-ice queens. Heck, the silly and annoying dwarfs —the dwarfs! — get more screen time than the fire-and-ice queens. Surely Blunt and Theron know they’re too good to skulk around green screens, but the actresses do have their game faces on. They also look stunning in to-die-for gowns designed by Oscar winner Colleen Atwood.

What a waste that they’re stuck in an overwrought fantasy pic that, by May 1, will be forgotten. Or, at the very least, it will be put into a very deep sleep.

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