The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Cinema Review)

12A – 117mins – 2016


 

MIRROR EARTH

Tolkien meets Frozen in this gritty, teen-targeted, action-heavy Kristen Stewart-less swearytale spin-off from 2012’s Snow White & the Huntsman. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the visual effects supervisor on the first film, makes his directorial debut, promoted after Rupert Sanders’ well publicised extramarital scandal with K-Stew.

Initially planned as a prequel to avoid explaining Snow White’s absence, Winter’s War is actually both an origin story for Chris Thor Hemsworth’s axe-handy Eric and a sequel, with the action skipping seven years and enveloping the previous films’ events.

Welcomely narrated by Liam Neeson’s assuring tones, we are re-introduced to a pre-death sorceress Ravenna (the returning Charlize Theron) and her fairer sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is involved in an illicit liaison with Merlin’s Colin Morgan. When Freya discovers Morgan’s Duke has murdered their child, grief brings her long-suppressed magical powers to the fore, and the Ice Queen is born.

Setting up her own kingdom in the North, Freya begins recruiting children to form a hardened army of cold-hearted huntsmen. When her two best warriors, Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), fall in love, Freya furiously forces Eric to watch as Sara is slain behind a wall of ice, before Eric’s unconscious body is thrown into the water…

Seven years (and a box office hit) later and a still-grieving Eric is recruited by Snow White’s husband, King William (Sam Claflin, who all-but cameos) to locate the shiny menace that is the Magic Mirror, which was stolen while being transported to “Sanctuary”, after it made the bed-bound Queen ill (handy, that).

Plucky dwarf Nion (Nick Frost) returns, accompanied by his humorously mouthy kin, Gryff (Rob Brydon), to aid Eric in his quest, which sees the unlikely trio reunited with a not-dead Sara (shocker!), battle goblins, team up with she-dwarfs (Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach), survive countless ambushes and confront Freya in a climatic battle in her Ice Palace to ensure the sort-after MacGuffin doesn’t fall into the wrong hands all over again.

With a mission which sees our motley band of heroes cross kingdoms, we are treated to a plethora of sumptuous fantasy landscapes and creatures both fair and foul, granting Winter’s War an expansive, large scale feel. Similarly, the expanding cast are all worthy additions to this Grimm world, ranging from empowering (Chastain), to domineering (Blunt) and cheeky (Brydon), and yet, they all fail to distract from the Kristen Stewart-shaped elephant missing from the throne room…

This is a follow up motivated by money and sadly defined by the loss of its star, with Snow White frequently referenced but never seen (aside from one clip, shot from behind, which was clearly an extra), with the biggest offence coming when Freya asks the Magic Mirror that most fateful question. As a golden figure is summoned forth and gradually forms before our eyes, the camera purposefully avoids showing Ravenna’s resurrected face until the last possible moment, playing with the audience’s expectations of who the fairest of them all really is, before shattering the illusion into a thousand anti-climatic shards.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

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Crimson Peak (DVD Review)

15 – 119mins – 2015


TRIP THE LIGHT PHANTASTC

Having taken a scenic detour to the Pacific Rim via Middle Earth, acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) returns home to the horror genre with this sumptuously beautiful love letter to gothic masterpieces. The back cover of last week’s region 2 DVD release boldly boasts that legendary scribe Stephen King bestowed the film with the impressive twofold accolade of “Gorgeous and terrifying”.

Well, Mr. King is half right. For Crimson Peak is intricately crafted and adorned with dazzling precision, a true archetype for set designers and light technicians in the industry to aspire towards. The screen is never anything less than a feast of towering bygone architecture, swirling snowstorms, portentous phantoms, maelstroms of moths and precisely-orchestrated plays of light and shadow.

But for all its jaw-dropping visual shimmer, the story is a slow and unsatisfying slog, with the stuffy aristocratic air and over-choreographed atmosphere zapping any tension or chills. Budding ghost story author Edith Cushing (Alice In Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska) narrates the deepening mystery surrounding the dilapidated Allerdale Hall and its inheritors, but by signposting any paranormal activity you are no longer shocked by their arrival, no matter how ghastly their appearance or unnatural their gait.

As more is revealed of the true intentions of clay-mining baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom “Loki” Hiddleston) and his brusque sister Lucille (Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain), the apparitions increase, but become ever-more redundant to the resolution of the plot as an influx of stabbings dominate. For such an otherwise tame horror, del Toro does shock with a profuse amount of blood (well, the colour is in the title), with one early scene in particular sickeningly brutal and unnecessary.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars