About a week ago, the CEO of the country’s biggest theater chain announced that he was debating whether to make some, all or sections of the company’s movie houses friendly to texting. The blowback was so swift that the CEO walked back his position within days. But now along comes Huntsman: Winter’s War, a movie so glum, messy, dull and brazenly patched together from a dozen better ones that the distraction of oblivious jerks texting would almost be a welcome. Almost.
The movie is a chaser to the slightly less terrible Snow White and the Huntsman, released in 2012. That one featured Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Charlize Theron as her (scene-stealing) wicked stepmother Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth as the mighty hunter who’s sent by Ravenna to kill Snow White but who falls in love with her instead. Stewart (no fool, she) is conspicuously M.I.A. in this one, scripted by Evan Siliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, yet the characters keep talking and talking about her—which almost makes us miss her. Almost.
To cover her absence, there are huge slabs of narration humorlessly intoned by Liam Neeson as if he were improvising from quick reads of Lord of the Rings and Frozen. Speaking of the latter, Huntsman gives us a new character, Elsa—oops, we mean Freya—an icy heroine who rules the North Kingdom, kidnaps kids to turn them into an army of huntsmen, rides around on giant white bears and basically wants to put the deep freeze on all who cross her. Sounds like Frozen, right? Also thrown into the cauldron is a forbidden romance between Hemsworth and fellow soldier Jessica Chastain, a relationship so badly and unconvincingly set up that you just know the lovebirds are pushing up daisies the moment they make cow eyes at each other.
Aside from Chastain and Hemsworth’s off-putting and terrible Scottish accents, there is genuinely sprightly second-act quest involving Hemsworth character and some scene-grabbing dwarfs. And there are also some lush, way over-the-top costumes from designer Colleen Atwood, perhaps inspired by memories of the heyday of Elton John or Carmen Miranda. If the rest of this fractured fairy tale offered anything else near those levels of energy and inspiration, it might almost have been tolerable. Almost.