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The Huntsman: Winter’s War Is So Bad, It’s Fantastically Wonderful

Back in 2012, a movie called Snow White and the Public Domain IP unexpectedly made almost $400 million. And that’s why today sees the release of a second film, Huntsman: The Contractual Obligation Movie (although for some reason the posters call it The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Go figure.) The Contractual Obligation Movie is about as bad as you’d expect, but it’s also surprisingly, insanely fun.

The startling thing about The Contractual Obligation Movie is what a brilliant cast it musters. Chris Hemsworth is back as the Huntsman (because he was contractually obligated), and so is Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna. But also, Emily Blunt plays Queen Ravenna’s sister, Queen Freya, and Jessica Chastain plays the Huntsman’s long lost wife, Sara. Plus Nick Frost is back as a dwarf.

The film’s story, which I will not spoil (or really, attempt to explain) here, is something that would have been tailor-made for a direct-to-DVD spinoff, with all the lead roles recast with actors from Heroes and Smallville. It has that exact feeling to it, from the overwrought opening voiceover to the wobbly ending. The fact that we get to see this pointless, silly movie made with an A-list cast, instead, is one of the great marvels of our age, and is something that we should all be profoundly grateful for.

I just watched Snow White and the Public Domain IP the other day, so it’s fresh in my mind, and I can tell you that Huntsman: The Contractual Obligation Movie is way more fun. In that first movie, Charlize Theron goes batshit insane over and over again, chewing all of the scenery and just stealing the entire movie. But Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, really seems to think she’s in a serious historical drama, and Chris Hemsworth has been told to brood as hard as he possibly can. It kind of gets in the way of laughing at all of the ridiculousness, and makes Snow White kind of slow going.

In this new movie, though, everybody has gotten the same memo that Theron got the first time around. Hemsworth, in particular, is just goofing around, flashing his big silly smile in every scene, as if his character were named The Drunksman. He flirts with everybody. In fact, he’s basically playing Happy Thor the entire time. (But not enough shirtlessness.)

And pretty much everybody else involved treats The Contractual Obligation Movie with the gravity it deserves—they all take the piss out of it, which is part of what makes this movie So Bad It’s Good [TM] rather than just atrocious and boring. It’s very much in the same wheelhouse as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, for example.

This is a film where Emily Blunt (wearing all white fetishwear and a sick alabaster bird tiara) rides around on a giant creature that is half polar bear, half tiger. It’s a film where Charlize Theron randomly turns into gold birds every now and then, without interrupting her latest hissing monologue.

This is also a film in which one of the main fight scenes includes a few clear shots of Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double, in spite of a lot of very determined shakey-cam. And some of the other big fights try vainly to rip off the big money shots from movies of 15 years ago, like the “run, do a backflip and stab something” shot.

And Jessica Chastain’s big contribution to the fun is to put on a wonderfully fake Scottish accent, that changes from scene to scene—or sometimes even within the same scene. She’s Peter Capaldi one moment, James Doohan the next.

This is also a film in which you’re supposed to be endlessly fascinated with dwarf gender politics—which amount to male dwarves thinking female dwarves are icky, for some reason. This is a joke that is run into the ground, and then proceeds to tunnel to the center of the Earth.

Actually, one of the main selling points of a movie like this one is its three divas, with their amazing dresses and super tuff attitudes. And no surprise, The Contractual Obligation Movie is a somewhat better film when Emily Blunt is trying to boss around Jessica Chastain, or having sisterly rivalry with Charlize Theron. When Chris Hemsworth stomps into the picture, looking outRAGEously pleased with himself, everything gets more fun, but also somewhat more forgettable into the bargain. This is a much more interesting movie when it’s about the ladies swooshing around in their amazing outfits, trying to one-up each other. (Or possibly seduce each other. Take your pick.)

Emily Blunt is playing, basically, the Ice Queen from Disney’s Frozen, except even more pissed off and miserable. She’s constantly turning people into ice statues and pouting, in between acts of crazy sadism. Of all the actors in this movie, Emily Blunt is probably trying the hardest to be taken somewhat seriously, even as she spouts increasingly unsayable dialogue about outlawing love and conquering everything. She’s like the anti-Charlize Theron, which makes their confrontations even more wild.

At the same time, it’s odd. The actual story of The Contractual Obligation Movie is dark as all fuck. No real spoilers, but it involves a murdered baby, and then lots and lots of other children getting abused and turned into soldiers. This film, among other things, is supposed to show why Chris Hemsworth was so broody in the Snow White film, but Hemsworth’s endlessly jolly smirk sort of undoes that idea, and this film keeps pivoting from the horrific to the horrendous with such alacrity that you sort of understand why everybody involved seems to have been well medicated (except Blunt).

Bottom line: The Contractual Obligation Movie—or, as the posters mistakenly call it, The Huntsman: Winter’s War—is a priceless treasure. Good movies come along pretty regularly, at least one every couple months, I guess. There’s never a shortage of good movies, right? But movies that are as sublimely bad as this one? They are a rare and precious treasure.

I say this as someone who just recently sat through Gods of Egypt, which was just tiresome and annoying in equal measure. If Gods of Egypt had included Chris Hemsworth mugging at the camera, or Jessica Chastain changing her accent every few minutes, or Emily Blunt scowling and turning to ice and riding around on a snow-leopard-bear, I would have dug it.

You have the means to enjoy Huntsman: The Contractual Obligation Movie. Just pour some of it into your 20-oz Slurpee container before entering the theater, or else bake it into cookies or brownies—depending on what kind of “enhancements” you prefer. The point is, in most years, there are only one or two movies—tops—that are this joyfully nonsensical. If you enjoy terrible fun, you should consider yourself obligated to check out The Contractual Obligation Movie.*

* And yes, the Monty Python reference is totally intentional. I kept hearing the phrase “’Tis a silly place” in my head, while I watched this movie.

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