The film, loosely based on the Snow White fairy tale, is a prequel/sequel to the 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman. It opens with a brief flashback showing Ravenna (Theron) killing her husband, the king (Robert Portal), who is also Snow White’s father. And it gives a picture of the relationship between the two sisters Ravenna, older and dominant, and Freya (Blunt) submissive and emotionally positive. After Ravenna destroys Freya’s chance for happiness, Freya, feeling betrayed and cynical, takes off to the north to set up her own kingdom. Her new ability to magically create ice gives her the reputation of the “Ice Queen” and serves as a special power (Yup; think Frozen, 2013). Her castle containing an enormous ice tower juts up into the high mountains covered with ice and snow.
To build her army, Freya kidnaps hundreds of children and brings them to her castle to be trained for warfare by her huntsmen. Two children are standouts for their superior combat skills: Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain). Unfortunately, these two eventually fall in love, which is against Freya’s law prohibiting it. Love is a sin, the Ice Queen has decided. What happens to them is the major action of the ensuing story.
With such a talented cast, excellent cinematography (Phedon Papamichael), production design (Dominic Watkins), and costumes (Colleen Atwood), it’s a shame that the story lacks substance. It’s as if the writers (Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin) put the few elements of the Grimm brothers’ Snow White into a bottle with whatever came to mind, shook it up and threw the contents out on the table, putting them back together in such a way the plot comes out rather jumbled and marked by unfortunate stereotypes of women. Give them power and they become controlling and mean (Ravenna). If they start out being loving, they become controlling and icy and/or they get duped (Freya). They’re unmerciful if they’ve felt betrayed or were misled into believing it to be so (Sara). Out of all this mishmash, the gist of the tale is “Love conquers all”, which is stated sarcastically in the beginning, but expressed genuinely by the end, as if that is the conclusion the audience is supposed to draw. However, what transpires in between is not convincing.
Light moments in the film that are intended as jokes seem out of place and out of context. When one character gets proof that her betrayer actually loves her—a tender moment she shows with tears in her eyes—the mood is broken by the question, “Are you crying?” And we’re supposed to chuckle at this misplaced joke. There are numerous jolts like this which are intended to be funny, but that take the focus away from a fairy tale atmosphere to present day culture.
A story more a jumble than a fairy tale.