‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’
Director:
 Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Snow White shall kneel before me,” crows one of the villains in a movie that doesn’t feature Snow White. There’s a lot of awkward franchising going on in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.” For one thing, it’s a prequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” that all of a sudden turns into a sequel. There’s no Snow White and therefore no Kristen Stewart, who — with her Cesar award and multiple Olivier Assayas movies — is definitely too cool for inessential sequels to movies that were already pretty dumb. Eventually a character killed in the first comes back and can’t even give a straight answer about whether she’s dead, alive or what.

Even the staunchest motivational speaker would have told the filmmakers to give up, ditching a film that never needed to exist in the first place. Instead, they throw money and overqualified actors at it. That’s why a forgettable spin-off stars no less than Emily Blunt, plus no less than Jessica Chastain. The former materializes as Freya, the sister of Charlize Theron’s evil Ravenna. Turns out there was never just one — or there was, and then some flustered screenwriters invented another during a late night brainstorming meeting. Freya starts off the nicer of the two, but after tragedy strikes she turns into a literal ice queen, able to freeze over her kingdom and seeking to rid the world of love, just as the film that contains her is driven by a cold, singleminded lust for cash.

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Eveyrthing is hand-me-down, right down to the opening narration. “There was another story,” we’re told, in words now de rigueur for spins on classics, “one you haven’t yet seen.” Except that it’s basically “Frozen.” As if to avoid getting sued by Disney, “Huntsman 2” quickly shifts from the story of sister queens, one who can summon snow, and delves into the unwanted backstory of Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). 

Turns out he wasn’t just some rando boozehound who happened to get involved in one of the most famous fairy tales ever endlessly re-told. There’s an architect for all his pain, and it’s Freya, who raised him as part of her child army. Lo and behold, Eric defied her by falling stupid in love with a fellow warrior, Chastain’s Sara. Freya split them up, but they’re reunited years later when they go on a hunt for Snow White’s mirror, which was apparently stolen and now also apparently has similar powers as the ring from “The Lord of the Rings.”

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That’s a lot of setup for what amounts to a simple, throwaway mission for a MacGuffin. By the time Eric and Sara — plus awkwardly dwarf-ized comic reliefs played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, neither given much chance to provide comedy — are on the hunt, the supersized, semi-coherent climax is almost around the corner. “Huntsman 2” might have worked a bit better without the shackles of a franchise or the pomp or the name stars or even the budget. With its love of forests and caves and palaces decked in gold and black, with its ice owls and moss tortoises and CGI hedgehogs and horned beasties with bling, it would fit right into the realm of cutrate ’80s fantasy junk. There’s an unpretentious romp in here somewhere — a dreary mess periodically enlivened by some flirty-angry (if never memorable) banter between Hemsworth and Chastain, plus some good glazed ham-work by Theron. 

But Theron’s Ravenna only pops up in the protracted opening then returns for the closer, and she’s only there because the movie needs more than one major character to return from the first so it will sell. The whole movie is a square peg trying to be jammed into a round hole, with nothing that feels organic and every element there to grift audience bucks. The best you can see about is it’s so negligible that no one — be they Oscar winner or nominee, Brit comedy legend or old school macho he-man — leaves an impression, and therefore leaves unscathed. It’s a $100 million movie that won’t leave a carbon print, at least until the third one randomly stars Brie Larson.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge