The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

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Well, here we are again and you may wonder why. Why, after hating Snow White and the Huntsman so much, would I watch it’s prequelly sequel? It just shows that I really want to like this franchise. I have failed once more, or maybe the movie makers have once again failed me.

Here’s what happens:

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen1The Evil Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), has a sister: Freya (Emily Blunt). Freya resists her magical powers and falls for a young man who is already betrothed to another woman, but he still gets Freya pregnant and later kills the child, seemingly because it interferes with his marriage plans. Freya, of course, kills him, freezing him to death with a single scream over her dead daughter.

In order to not live under her sister’s thumb, she goes north, builds an ice fortress and an army from the young people of the countries surrounding her own – she kidnaps them, kills their parents. She explains to them that love is non-existent and that they’re far better off with her. She’s freed them from the illusion of love and they’re trained to be her army of huntsmen.

One of them is Eric (Chris Hemsworth) whom we have met in the first film, another is Sara (Jessica Chastain). They fall in love and are then seperated by the ice queen, Eric thinking Sara dead while she thinks he abandoned her. Seven years later, after the Snow White-thing happened, they meet again to secure Ravenna’s mirror.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, the trailer looked great that’s why I watched this one. Another great trailer, another disappointing movie. Another failed attempt at feminism, too, though it’s not the main focus of this movie.

My problems with it stem less from the story and once again more from the underlying thehuntsmanandtheicequeen5messages. While the makers of The Huntsman seem to have taken advice from the makers of the show Once Upon a Time and screwed continuity, it’s not the worst they did. But let me tell you in detail.

For me, it all started with the question: so, Freya is Ravenna’s sister, where did she come from? It could be explained away, of course. She’s younger, she wasn’t kidnapped with Ravenna and her creepy brother, they reunited later, whatever. But then, they never even mentioned the creepy brother in this one, even though he could have been part of the narrative in the past. But they just dropped him. Okay.

But what about the fact that we last saw Eric eye-shagging Snow White across the throne room, and suddenly he finds out his wife isn’t dead? Shouldn’t that be awkward? Obviously not, because Snow White and the Huntsman were, it seems, never an item. He works for her, as a good huntsman would, and later swears to his wife that he was always true to her. Yeah, well… okaaay. So, continuity was thrown out the castle window, that’s mildly annoying, but whatever.

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen4This franchise boasts with its feminism. Look, it says, all the strong women we have, and women in power positions, too. And strong fighters. Seeing Jessica Chastain whup some serious Hemsworth-ass you would agree, but then, am I the only one thinking it kinda weird that the male population of the conquered countries outweighs the female population by about 6 to 1? Which means, far more male Huntsmen than female. And there goes your feminism. They try to present it in front of the camera, but then fail to employ just as many female extras as male. Why? Probably so that the male audience doesn’t feel uncomfortable by all those feisty women fighters. FAIL!

You probably think: oh, stop whining. Both evil queens are female! Yes, they are. They’re also evil and must be overcome by the good male. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the effort they made of having three male heroes (Eric and his two dwarf companions) match with three female heroes (Sara and two randomly encountered female dwarfs). I do, but then, matching them is what they do, because every female becomes an instant love interest for the males. And here’s a theme that really rubbed me the wrong way: heteronormativity.

Having Freya fall for this young princely guy in the beginning is to be expected, it’s part of the plot. Having her become pregnant, that already seems problematic. It’s a Fairy Tale, girls who just give it away won’t be available for Happy Endings; her daughter dies, it was all a plot by her evil sister who feared the beauty her niece would become (they could have come up with a different reason here, but I guess why fix what’s not broken).

Ravenna still doesn’t seem overly interested in the kings she marries and keeps killing them. I appreciate that the movie makers are consistent here and pretty much still portray Ravenna as a lesbian. An evil lesbian, of course. Freya is less easily categorized, though. Of course, having had sex with a man before marriage does make her a sexual deviant of sorts, but the way they stage Sara’s ‘betrayal’ of Eric, it looks a little like Freya took advantage of Sara in more ways than one. It’s free for interpretation, but the looks that pass, the timing of Eric asking if Sara has been truthful… it lends heavily to the idea that Freya and Sara hooked up at some point. But since the whole situation, the Huntsman being Freya’s slaves (whipping scars included), is emphasized, it’s not Sara’s fault.thehuntsmanandtheicequeen2

And here we have another problematic topic: slavery. If we place The Huntsman in its original time and place, we could argue for indented servantry, I guess. But the movie makers push the story here, including black children in the kidnapped mix. Going back to the Brothers Grimm, this would have been fairly unlikely, but American Fairy Tale telling has always taken liberties, so let’s say it’s a liberty they took here. They made one of the kidnapped black kids a recognizable character, Tull (Sope Dirisu), marking him with an ice burn to the face, so he might be recognizable to the white audience (that’s not racist at all!).

You know, at this point, it’s not difficult to see why this movie made me so mad. I was surprised by my reaction, but I do feel it’s justified. The movie tries so hard to make things right, but in execution fails miserably. The main evil character is a lesbian obsessed with her beauty, her sister has sex before marriage and loses her daughter as a price for her indiscretion, the ‘dwarfs’ are being played by tall people, and the black character gets a mark so that we may not confuse him with the two black extras. Oh, and of course, everybody good is also inherently straight, even though one of the male dwarfs shows his affection through verbal abuse – never mind, he’s still a better choice than the supporting female friend!

I mean, seriously? And you thought this was representative, feminist Fairy Tale-ing? Actually, it’s abusive, is the nicest thing I can say about it. And again, the acting of the main players is SO good, the movie LOOKS good. Jessica Chastain can actually pull off a fighter that’s a worthy opponent of Hemsworth… but it’s all wasted on a movie that both demonizes or redicules diversity.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (3D)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) by George Miller

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I had no intention of watching this movie. It interested me about as much as watching snails mate before someone dropped the f-word. And by f-word I mean feminist, a feminist Mad Max-movie.

madmax2But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s what it’s about:

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) lives in a post-apocalyptic world and every day’s a struggle. He’s captured and used as blood donor for the cancer-ridden Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a warrior for the great Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with his whole harem of breeders (among them Zoe Kravitz), Immortan Joe and his posse take to the Fury Road to get back his property. A mad battle over freedom and hope begins.

And suddenly Mad Max is not the most insane character on this odd-yssey. But I liked it. I know that I have at least watched one of the original Mad Max-movies (the third), I’m not sure about the others. I don’t remember it being so… wild, but then I only remember Tina Turner being in it, so.

I thought this was going to be just another one of those dick flicks, male heroism-laden, totally FURY ROADboring and interchangeable movies that we all have watched a million times. It was not, at least not on all these counts. But we should be real here, it’s not anything great or surprisingly innovative. It’s very good entertainment, you’ll not be bored. You’ll see stuff explode, and car chases, and disgustingly violent things happening, all the things you would expect from a movie like this. There’s some humor randomly added, a little love story that doesn’t take up too much time or space.

Is it a feminist film, though? I would agree with Charlize Theron that it is not, but for different reasons. Post-apocalyptic worlds usually mean that there’s need for offspring. Thus women are being held captive, forced to breed. Oftentimes they’re being raped, or make that all the time since their autonomy over their bodies is taken, period. And this is where Miller starts his tale and tries to right this wrong. This is surprising. The story follows a couple of women who try to escape their circumstances and get unexpected help from a stranger who is on his path to redemption.

madmax3While the focus on the women is surprising, there is no way Miller could make them equal to Max. He needed a female hero as well, and this is Imperator Furiosa. A woman who has gone through the same hardship as the girls she’s trying to save. And she is presented as an equal to Max. While his (mental) disability isn’t visible, hers is: she’s missing part of her left arm. But she’s a fighter and a no-nonsense hero. She does what is necessary to get the women to where she came from, to where she was taken from. As this is post-apocalyptic, this home away from male domination isn’t all it was supposed to be.

Furiosa is equal to Max, in this you could say it’s actually feminist. If you look at any other characters, though, you see that it does not extend beyond the heroes. The matriarchal clan Furiosa came from is down to a handful of women who resort to killing men because they can’t trust them. The women at the citadel are used as breeders or as providers of milk and care takers. And if you look at mere numbers, well, men everywhere, fighting, dying, rocking FURY ROADout to the sound of their own deaths. Male dominance is very much alive.

Still, some men complain over the female-centric plot, over the fact that Max is not the single hero. Check you priviledge, guys. If you don’t like it, watch one of the gazillion films that’s been made about your entitlement and shut the fuck up.

Snow White and the Evil Queen

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) by Rupert Sanders

I am not sure what Hollywood’s current fascination with fairy tales is all about. Two Snow White-movies and Little Red Riding Hood, not to mention other mythical creatures that haunt us since Bram Stoker… I would like to blame it all on Stephenie Meyer but I guess that would be too easy.

And the premise (or the trailer) of this one was quite good: Snow White as independent amazon-like figure who will fight the evil queen with a sword – and looks awesome in chain mail. Who didn’t want to see it after the first glimpse of the trailer. And then, of course, tumblr was all aglow with bits and pieces of interviews with the female leads – who flirted shamelessly (with each other). After that the rest of the world (or was it only the lesbian world?) was enchanted and rushed to the movie theaters.

So did I. And as mostly everybody else I was disappointed. It actually has me believe that Hollywood should just produce trailers and leave the actual story to our imaginations. Then we can use platforms like these to talk about our various versions of a movie and not complain about an actual production – because let’s face it: that happens more and more often.

I don’t want to go into the details of why I think Hollywood produces so many bad movies right now, let’s discuss instead why Snow White and the Huntsman is one of them.

Fairy tales do not easily adept to feminism, that is a basic truth, as mostly these stories were there to scare women off. Not just off seeking a different aim in life than marriage (because marriage obviously makes a princess out of any girl) but off seeking an independent sexuality. And I am not talking only lesbianism here as you might think, I am also talking about women wanting to experience an orgasm… women were there to fulfil male sexuality not establish an own sexuality. Women who tried that were deemed witches (not just in fairy tales but in medieval Europe as well). This is what the beginning of Snow White and the Huntsman tells us as well. Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen, gets married to Snow White’s dad (Noah Huntley) and poisons him in their wedding night. But the poison does not kill him, Ravenna does as she plunges a knife into the man.

Let’s talk about the obvious symbolism of this act. Wedding night constitutes the first time man penetrates woman. Ravenna turns it around (literally as she flips her new husband over and straddles him) and penetrates him instead – with a knife to his chest. She explains this to be her feminist manifesto against the injustice of women having to be beautiful while man only having to have a penis.

Of course, there is some truth behind her reasoning. But it is so obviously done as if to say: look, we make women in fairy tales feminist and strong women now, we are not sexist, men do understand woman’s need for independence (the makers and shakers of the film are mostly male). Yeah, well, and no! Especially since they make the evil queen not just a feminist, they make her a lesbian – and quite deliberately so. You think I am delusional?

So, during the wedding night, Ravenna penetrates her husband – put in here one of the early sexolgists, and you have the typical penis envy scenario. She keeps a beautiful young girl (Kristen Stewart) prisoner in a tower, not killing her (and if you wondered what her brother [Sam Spruell] has to do with the story at all, why not see him as her male alter ego so that she can watch Snow White…), she sucks the life out of young women with a kiss (yes, I know, they finally refrained from executing the kiss but what do you think it stands for? CPR?) – this takes us back to 19th century “lesbian” literature that protrays lesbians as sucking the life out of young (and straight) women using a higher social standing (hello, queen) to seduce them (the vampire myth is linked to this, as well). The queen wants the heart of the fairest of them all – do I really have to point to the symbolism of the heart? Ravenna coaxes Snow White into sharing her first kiss with her – in the guise of a man but still… why not just plunge a knife into her (also note that Ravenna never actually kisses the king but she kisses his daughter – what does that tell us?)? And finally: Snow White’s last words to the evil queen – ‘I can’t give you my heart’ – in a movie that is so forceful with it’s many symbols… I guess, this last line seals the deal.

So, here we have another dead lesbian, a witch, an evil woman. Sure, they try to build a little story around her vanity and her strangely symbiotic relationship with her brother but that is more confusing than anything else. Just because your mother tells you that your beauty is your only worth, does not make it right to suck the life out of female citenzry and land.

But let’s come to our damsel in distress who is also more of a fake feminist and more of a virginal (and Christian) standard. The girl has been in a tower for a decade, no one knows she’s alive and no one (especially not the audience) knows why she’s still alive. Maybe so that the queen’s brother has someone to peep at other than his sister (that guy creeped me out). Her beauty does not just stem from her lovely red lips, the black hair and the white skin, it is mostly an inner beauty (here they went all out with the beauty-comes-from-within-message that Hollywood sells so well…). Albeit the fact that she has spent the last ten year in a prison cell, she is in pretty good shape when it comes to escaping the castle (I especially like the sliding into the… medieval canalization thingy). Make no mistake, she’s a feisty one but she is also not quite the amazon princess the trailer makes her out to be. ‘Cause her main fighting skill is a move the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) shows her early in the film and, of course, it is the way she finally kills the queen (this is foreshadowing waving at you).

Don’t get me wrong, Kristen Stewart sells this girl well and, I guess, compared to Bella Swan every girl is a feminist but still, the message does not sail. Why? Snow White is a virgin, stays a virgin to her death, is awakened by true love’s kiss (from the Huntsman), and, as far as we know, stays a virgin until she is crowned (I must say, though, that this crowning scene had me a little confused – and not just because of the head-nodding at the very end – but she is wearing red and she and her huntsman have a little bit of an eye-shagging accross the entire room… this could mean that they have been intimate, but the fact that she is crowned and not married at the end of the movie could also mean that she will be one of those “virgin queens” history has invented as another means to suppress woman’s sexuality).

On the whole the movie overdoes it’s showy feminism when it is about beauty but forgets about setting female sexuality free. It also mixes too many mythical tropes. I mean, we knew there would be dwarfs (because, hello! it’s Snow White!), but then there were fairys, and then there was a shiny white stag (if it had started speaking at one point, I would have left the theater), there was witchcraft and then there was Snow White, reciting a Holy Father in front of her fire place while holding voodoo dolls (or something). And this already freaked me out after half an hour. It was just overdone.

And don’t get me wrong, the movie was visully stunning, it looked gooooood. But other than that… and this is especially sad when you look at the acting. I mean, KStew was great, she really was, but even Charlize Theron, who I consider a very good actress, overacted. At some point in the movie I stopped thinking of her as evil queen and thought of her as the drama queen…

There are still so many thoughts in my head about this movie: what they did well, they overdid (like slowmo… why did they need it 1.5 hours into the film to tell us that, yes, Snow White is the heroine?!), what they screwed up, they really screwed up (that whole brother figure was a disaster!), and then they put a quasi-amazon village into the film and neither did these women help Snow White hone her fighting skills nor did they show much resistance against a handful of guys raiding their village in search for Snow White… the only good thing about that was Rachel Stirling as the amazon queen (or whatever you want to call her) – I actually sat in the the theater and said: is that Rachel? (the guy next to me probably wondered if I was talking to him, who Rachel was and why he always had to sit next to crazy folk at the movies…).

So, there you have it. Another movie which could have been great but wasn’t…