There are so many conflicting messages in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” that after the first half hour you give up trying to decipher them, only to realize they aren’t messages at all but a grab bag of snippets from various Hollywood blockbusters.

You’re reminded of the old joke about a frugal aunt who has a box stashed in her closet labelled: “Strings too short to use.” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” appears to be what happens when you have a team of writers all clutching at the short strings, and a director who is the kind person who can’t say no.

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s movie is both a prequel and a sequel to the 2012 “Snow White and the Huntsman,” another re-interpetation of the classic fairytale, which featured Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. Though events in the new movie take place before and after the 2012 one, Snow White is nowhere to be seen and the story runs laps around a plot that tries to keep calm and carry on, like it doesn’t matter.

The Huntsman: Winter's War (Suno Howaito/Kori no Okoku)
Run Time 114 mins
Language English
Opens May 27

The focus (probably) is the titular Huntsman Eric (Hemsworth again). In 2012, he was the one appointed by evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. Instead, he became her trainer/mentor in their bid to destroy Ravenna.

Now, Eric’s back story unfolds. He grew up as a child soldier, one of many who were plucked from their homes and forced into the army of Ravenna’s badass sister Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). Eric’s battle-weary and not happy, but being an action hero, he puts his personal problems aside to make the world a better place.

At least I think that was the plan of director Nicolas-Troyan. To be honest, though, it’s hard to tell, since the film allots Eric an awful lot of screen time without any character development — he’s a cardboard figure with no emotions, just an agenda.

The women fare no better. Freya had been a nice person before an unfortunate incident results in the death of her baby. Her grief unleashes untold power on a par with that of Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” and turns her into an avenging and bitter Ice Queen. Freya even resembles Elsa with white hair and a similar wardrobe, though she refrains from belting out “Let It Go” and instead focuses her energy on building a huge army of soldiers to wage war against nearby kingdoms.

In the instances when you don’t find yourself comparing Freya to Elsa, you’ll instead find Ravenna channeling Maleficent, though more of a gold-plated nightmarish fashionista mirror-obessed version.

There’s one more woman in the picture: Sara (Jessica Chastain), another soldier who secretly marries Eric. It’s a secret because anything pertaining to love and family drives Freya nuts. In the sequel section of “The Huntsman,” Sara and Eric conspire to steal the Magic Mirror from Ravenna and take it to a place called Sanctuary, thereby restoring peace to their kingdom.

From here on in, “Huntsman” dips into “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” territory, with tinges of “Mission Impossible” thrown in for good measure. The serious nature of the movie indicates the filmmakers weren’t out to spoof anything but it may have been better if they had.

“The Huntsman” opened in the U.S. late last month and has become somewhat of a feminist metaphor — but it has little to do with the quality of the female characters. Charlize Theron grabbed entertainment headlines when she negotiated a $10 million raise from “Snow White and the Huntsman,” pointing out the disparity between her salary and the male cast’s. This confirms what I’ve suspected all along: The Wicked Queen has much more fun than Snow White, so she really should not sweat the small stuff, like her looks and aging.

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