Pity poor studly Chris Hemsworth. The Huntsman: Winter's War, the paltry prequel in which he again lends his mighty Thor abs to the title role, reduces him to eye candy. OK, he wasn't much more in 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman. His co-star Kristen Stewart stole the show as the warrior princess who won the hearts of dwarfs everywhere. Stewart's fling with married director Rupert Sanders may have motivated both of them to sit this one out. If so, smart move.
Now, first-time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan calls the shots, and the dude does Hemsworth no favors. Winter's War is a divafest from start to finish. Charlize Theron is back as evil queen Ravenna, and her beauty and bitchery remain wonders to behold. She treats her famed mirror like a toadying publicist by relentlessly demanding, "Who's the fairest of them all?" And when the magnetic Emily Blunt shows up as Ravenna's royal sister Freya, Hemsworth is virtually done for. These twisted sisters give the movie whatever life it has, and it's not bloody much.
You can't blame screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin for spending more time with the femmes fatales than the ho-hum Huntsman. But the script lifts so much plot from Disney's animated Frozen that it could qualify as a remake. When Ravenna plays a dirty trick on Freya, her younger sibling effing freaks out. Like Elsa, she retreats to an ice kingdom where she can freeze out what she doesn't like. Freya doesn't sing "Let It Go," the Oscar-winning song from Frozen, but she does damn near everything else to remind us of a movie we'd rather be watching.
And what of the Huntsman? He's part of the army Freya builds to go medieval on Ravenna's ass and steal her talking mirror. The Huntsman has been trained for battle since childhood, when he was called Eric. His rival in skill is a Huntswoman called Sara. Much to Hemsworth's bad luck, she is played by Jessica Chastain, who can act rings around him. Since their love story packs no heat, comic relief comes in the form of two dwarfs, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon). But even dwarf dudes are cursed in this film, since Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), a smartass female dwarf, steals every scene.
Somewhere in the middle of this maddening mess, the Snow White story is obliquely wedged in and Winter's War goes from prequel to sequel. It makes no sense, but it does let Theron and Blunt, dressed to thrill in Colleen Atwood's costumes, go at it in full-tilt boogie. The film lets rip with the crumbling of ice castles and other forms of mass destruction. But nothing can match seeing Theron and Blunt try to out-camp each other, providing the only glimmer of entertainment in a film dedicated to being ponderous. No one sings "Let It Go," but my advice to audiences is to do just that before mistakenly buying a ticket.