Trying to Turn The Huntsman: Winter’s War from Fairy Tale to Saga

28 Apr

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

When I first heard the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in a retelling of the Snow White tale because the story is now in the public domain, the first thought that came to my mind is if (the original movie and) the sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War can be told from a grandiose Viking perspective? I see it trying to go that route, but the narrative is forcing the fairy tale aspects in a bitter direction.

I skipped the first film because I’m not a big fan of Kristen Stewart. This latest version caught my eye because of Jessica Chastain‘s work in Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015). I enjoyed what she brought to the table in those science-fiction films. In fantasy, that world is ridden with tropes where not every “once upon a time” is all that fascinating anymore. In the details I’ve noticed, the Anglo-Saxon imagery permeates and I had to wonder why the mirror, when viewed in closeup, is decorated with runes. Could Loki be involved?

When the new villain is Freya (Emily Blunt), I can not help but wonder if her character might be based on the divinity of the same name from Nordic lore. This goddess of war and death rules the afterlife and she leads the spirits of dead soldiers into battle. She leads the fights for the thrill of the hunt instead of the cold-hearted rule of the people (like Ravenna [played by Charlize Theron] did in the first film). She’s sometimes connected with the heavenly Valkyries of lore. They find the slain to take to Valhalla. Although this movie twists the legend around by spiriting children away (from murdered parents) to become the Huntsmen, the ideology suggests a darker world. These kids have their innocence stripped so they can become ideal soldiers. Instead of a goddess, she’s a mutant with the ability to create ice from the moisture in the air.

Sadly this character does not have a direct connection with the world of the Vikings. For a fairy tale, parts of the tale are very traditional. Children being spirited away is nothing new to the lore, and these fun-loving sprites rarely meddle in human affairs unless provoked.

Just how this movie is intertwined with the previous, Snow White and the Huntsman, needs to be explained because what’s presented is a confusing mess. The trailers say this movie is a prequel, but when the first act is over, the story is revealed to be a sequel. Throughout the first film, Eric (Hemsworth) says his wife Sara (Chastain) is dead. Winter’s War explains what happened. When Eric first met Sara as children, their shared respect for each other blossomed to love. They were to marry and leave the fortress Freya, their Queen, built. But she does not approve; under her rule, romance is forbidden. The ice wall she placed between them created an illusion of what this ruler wanted them to see. Their deaths (or cowardly act) is a look into the mirror darkly of how emotions can get twisted around. This universe onlys get muddled with a view that happiness can never exist (even Snow White did not find complete happiness ever after).

With a story set in flashback and forward motion, this desolation is everywhere. The voice-over narrative suggests entropy is everywhere. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan wants viewers to know the first act is all set in the past to set up the first movie. When that’s done, the narrator tries to tell people the fairy tale continues some months after White’s coronation. I’m sure some video editor will make a fan edit to marry the two movies together since, if I did not pay attention to certain details, I would have been lost to how the first movie fits into the second.

Because White felt the power of the mirror, I get the sense she died. I’m not willing to see this movie again to make sure. The franchise is a throwaway product much like many a Hollywood generated fantasy tale ripping on many a trope used in fantasy literature. It does not have the staying power of Le Morte d’Arthur or Lord of the Rings. When the mirror gets removed from the castle, other forces aware of its power are instantly after it. The object never makes it to Sanctuary. I’m guessing it is a holy place to prevent the darkness the mirror ebbs from spreading. As this movie continues to show, it has a corrupting influence and it was kept locked away until Ravenna had it unwrapped.

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Eric’s adventures are the focus in this second film. He was left for dead, dumped in a river, after he attempted to leave Freya’s sect of warriors. He was left battered and bruised. His heart died that day Freya separated them. Fortunately, he survived his ordeals but I really wanted to know how he managed not to succumb to hypothermia. In the Marvel Universe, he is Thor, after all. He can survive anything, including being punched by the Incredible Hulk.

When the movie moves into the present (that is, to follow after the events of the first film), he’s gone back to acting like a happy-go-lucky vagabond. There were times I’d swear he’s become Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. When King William of Tabor meets him again, after a long time, he’s asked to find the cursed mirror. Unaware Freya has been tracking him since his recovery, she has a use for its power too. I suspect this was the time she learns about her older sister’s (Ravenna) death. She alone has the task to either take revenge or continue in her own mission to cleanse the land – to make it lifeless as it once was when Ravenna once ruled.

Eric agrees to the quest and is joined by dwarves, Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach). The story starts to feel more trope-ridden than anything original. I suppose there are hints of an Icelandic saga within but usually those tales span generations and is rarely about vengeance. Sarah wins as she’s out for blood, but Eric has other ideas. He’s as charming as Thor is to Dr. Jane Foster. Sorry dude, but lightning cannot strike twice here. Eventually, they come to an understanding that Freya, through her magic, manipulated them. This film is weak in its supernatural elements and is heavily depending on the Frozen narrative to carry it to a Carnage (the Marvel Comics villain) driven end. The symbiotic connection these two siblings have with the mirror is noticable.

The producers seem to have a tough time to get past this world’s link with the Disney universe. I rather see a direct reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen instead of Frozen. To explain where the magic mirror came from is needed. In Andersen’s tale, it’s a product of a wicked sprite who made it to distort reality by presenting the opposite of what it reflects. Ravenna saw beauty in it but when in reality her soul was twisted and hideous. This cursed object also caused her to turn her sister’s soul around. Freya had a heart once, but it was made cold. All she wanted was to raise her child, even though she was a product of an illicit affair (with the Duke of Blackwood). They were to elope, but Ravenna had other plans when the mirror revealed how the baby would become the fairest of all. Obviously, that meant Snow White died; her purity left the realm.

When the baby is murdered in cold blood, Freya thought to raise kidnapped youths to become Huntsmen can calm her soul. There is a beauty to this tale because a brotherhood and sisterhood is needed between her troupe of soldiers if they are to be effective fighters. There’s one moment in the film where Sara says fellow Huntsman, Tull (Sope Dirisu) can never slay her. They share too close a bond. But Freya’s banning of “heart” (more like emotions) only proved to be her downfall. In the way this film ends, Nicolas-Troyan nails this trope effectively by showing how a fighting unit has to unite emotionally to fight and win any battle.

However, now that the mirror is broken, it’s corrupting influence is not over. Just as Andersen’s tale reveals:

… the very smallest bit had the same power which the whole mirror had possessed … some of the broken pieces were so large that they were used for windowpanes, through which one could not see one’s friends. Other pieces were put in spectacles, and that was a sad affair when people put on their glasses to see well and rightly.

Just what’s next, if there’s to be another movie, will be about the mirror. The pieces can be melted down as it was merely a reflective surface of a large golden shield. Just where it’s used can bring new tales to come. Let’s just hope the narrative is better stitched together since Thor cannot shatter the mirror thrice. The fine dust material left behind is just as powerful.

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