MOVIE SYNOPSIS: As a war between rival queen sisters Ravenna and Freya escalates, Eric and fellow warrior Sara try to conceal their forbidden love as they combat Ravenna's wicked intentions.
Reel Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of scary action and peril
Released in Theaters: April 22, 2016
Best for Ages: 13+
Genre: Prequel, Fantasy
Runtime: 114 minutes
Directed by: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
MOVIE REVIEW: This gorgeous movie is both a sequel AND a prequel to 2012's "Snow White and the Huntsman." The story begins 20 years before the events of "Snow White," with Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who's pregnant with her lover's child. Her lover is engaged to be married, though, so it's all very hush-hush.
But love never works out, at least not in Ravenna's eyes. So she tries to convince Freya to abandon her hopes for a happy life with this man. But Freya continues to believe in love, until she finds her baby girl burned to death in her crib, supposedly at the hands of the child's father. At that moment, Freya is suddenly magical and becomes an ice witch, a la Elsa in the animated movie "Frozen."
Blanketed in grief, Freya flees her sister's kingdom and builds one of her own, where love is a sin and minions kidnap children to be raised as her army of huntsmen.
Fast-forward ten years. Freya's two best warriors are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). When these two fall in love, Sara is killed and Eric is banished from the kingdom. Remember, in Freya's kingdom, love is a sin.
Then we have yet another time jump to seven years later, after Snow White defeats Ravenna. Eric is commanded to destroy the Magic Mirror before Freya takes possession of her late sister's most valued object.
First, the good stuff. "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is a beautiful film, from the spectacular costumes to the moody locations, including Scotland; Cathedral Quarries in Cumbria, England (rock caves); Frensham Ponds in Farnham, Surrey, England (fishing village); and Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire, Wales (battle scenes).
And the cast is terrific. Theron is deliciously wicked (though we don't see enough of her in this film). Blunt is a formidable ruler in her own right. Hemsworth is as handsome as ever. And Chastain is an amazing female warrior and has great chemistry with Hemsworth. There's also a quartet of funny dwarves, played by Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach.
But the story meanders, and we can see a lot of it coming a mile away. Still, I think this movie is worth seeing on the big screen for the visuals. And the ending leaves room for yet another sequel.
PARENT OVERVIEW: Despite the fairy tale story, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is fairly violent. An infant is burned to death, and there are other deaths and peril throughout the movie. Ravenna and Freya are scary and dangerous. Goblins pursue and nearly kill the main characters. Not much drinking or profanity, but there are two scenes where characters kiss and show bare shoulders and backs.
PARENT DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):
Violence/Gore: Ravenna and Freya kill people in various ways. An infant baby is burned to death in her crib (we just see the smoke, but no body is shown). Ravenna summons inky death rays, and Freya uses magic to freeze people and shatter them into pieces. The Huntsmen battle armies, and large goblins scream and attack people.
Sex/Nudity: Ravenna flirts with her husband. Eric and Sara kiss passionately and make love. In one scene, they're naked in a hot spring (bare shoulders and backs are shown), and in another, they undress each other while lying down.
Profanity: A few insults like "stupid," "idiot" and "monster."
Drugs/Alcohol: The huntsman and the dwarves drink at a pub.
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM:
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
By Jane Louise Boursaw. Jane Boursaw is the film critic and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Images in this review used courtesy of the studio and distributor.