Movie reviews: The Huntsman: Winter's War is a clunker, Demolition cannot be saved

The Huntsman: Winter's War proves to be a stone-cold movie with a paucity of ideas; and a competent director cannot save the badly written therapy drama Demolition

In The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Jessica Chastain (above) plays Sara, who is raised as a soldier to protect the Ice Queen.PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

The stars swooped into town to dazzle us two weeks ago and, a million selfies later, they left. If only they had taken this clunker home with them.

The Huntsman: Winter's War (PG13, 114 minutes, opens tomorrow, 1.5/5 stars) is a hodge-podge of bits assembled from better films. Its paucity of ideas is such that its high points feel generic. Its low points, and there are plenty of them, are so low they elicit laughter, of the wrong kind.

The story begins some years before the events of Snow White And The Huntsman (2012) before galloping past that film and into fresh - well, slightly fresher - territory. Evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), an ice queen whose powers resemble that of a character from a hit Disney movie from a few years back with a title that rhymes with Blozen. The writers (none of whom wrote the first movie) could have given her any form of magic.

In The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Jessica Chastain (above) plays Sara, who is raised as a soldier to protect the Ice Queen. PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

Any kind would have worked in this story, but they chose that particular one. Wonder why.

Freya has a kingdom and steals children to raise as soldiers; in their number is Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain). There is a longish narrated sequence intended to link this film with the 2012 picture but, except for comeback characters such as Eric, Ravenna and the magic mirror, this story can exist without the other.  

And the story, as handled by French visual-effects artist and first-time feature director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, is a disjointed set of fights and chases. It features baddies that look like a hybrid of the apes from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014) and the orcs from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

In between the swordplay. Eric and Sara try to make like lovers, but neither their passions nor the master-mentor tensions between sisters Ravenna and Freya warm up this stone-cold product.

Then along come the comic-relief dwarves, played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon who, when not working in tone-deaf films like this, are actually good comedians. Their modern sensibilities, seen in their mildly racy jokes and self-hating jibes about how short and ugly they are, rub against the grain of the film's kid-friendly earnestness. This is made worse by director Nicolas-Troyan stepping over their beats with tin-eared editing.

Well, Chastain at least got to eat durian here, so she didn't come all this way for nothing.

In Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal (right) plays Davis, a successful executive who has to deal with his wife’s death. PHOTO: CATHEY-KERIS FILMS

This reviewer had high hopes for Demolition (NC16, 100 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars), which comes from Oscar-nominated Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee.

In Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Wild (2014), Vallee proved that he knew his way around characters who self-destruct, then heal themselves in theatrical but believable ways, whether it's through helping others find Aids medication in Dallas or with a brisk long walk in Wild.

In Demolition, he sticks with what he knows best, hurt and recovery. Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a successful business executive who, after the death of his wife, is numb to all emotion. Whether he is plagued by guilt, ennui, grief or something else is deliberately left mysterious.  

Davis exhibits peculiar symptoms, such as the urge to tear things apart - toilet stalls, refrigerators and entire homes - and pouring the mundane details of his life into letters sent to a  vending machine company. The notes are read by customer relations employee and single mum Karen (Naomi Watts).

Despite interesting performances by Watts and child actor Judah Lewis (playing Karen's son Chris), Vallee and team are handicapped by the story's clunky literalisms about breaking things down in order to rebuild them. Gyllenhaal's character is also oddly shaped - at one point he comes across as a man born sociopathic, rather than a normal person damaged by pain.

Vallee is a competent, empathetic director, but even he cannot save the bad writing in this therapy drama.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'A cold Winter's War'. Subscribe