The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (Universal) is both a prequel and a sequel. As such, it falls between two stools — with a resounding thud.
Positioned to bookend the action of 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” this lavishly staged adventure is well intentioned but dull. It boils down to a mash-up of fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” and Disney’s “Frozen.”
Everything from the first movie has been doubled-up by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. In addition to two time frames, there are now a duo of wicked queens, a pair of rival kingdoms and a brace of brave huntsmen.
Noticeably absent is Snow White herself. Perhaps she was done in by a happy ending: At the conclusion of the last installment — in which she was portrayed by Kristen Stewart — she had vanquished her evil adversary (Charlize Theron) and been installed as the benevolent ruler of a peaceable kingdom.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Eric, the fearless (and hunky) huntsman. He is given a backstory in the prequel part of the film. Kidnapped as a boy, Eric is raised by Freya (Emily Blunt) the Ice Queen to be the ultimate soldier. His rearing is part of Freya’s drive to conquer neighboring kingdoms.
Freya, we learn, was not always so mean; her evil sister Queen Ravenna (Theron) is the malevolent ruler who will one day face off against Snow White.
A dalliance between Freya and the Duke of Blackwood (Colin Morgan), produces a child. This provokes the usual warnings from that familiar magic mirror about Ravenna’s endangered status as “the fairest of them all.” Wild with jealously, Ravenna has the infant girl killed before Freya can run off with her lover.
Freya’s reaction is unexpected: her grief releases a dormant power to control ice and snow. She abandons Ravenna to run her own show and raise an army.
Soon after, the fast-forwards seven years, jumping over the events of the original, and by the time the filmmakers resort to introducing flying monkeys into the mix, you’ll wish you were back home in Kansas with good old Auntie Em.
The film contains cartoonish action violence, implied premarital sexual activity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and a few crass terms. (A-III, PG-13)