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Review: 'The Huntsman: Winter's War' – What parents should know

If you question why a follow-up movie was made to "Snow White and the Huntsman," the largely panned fantasy adventure film of 2012 starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, you're not alone.

Regardless, "The Huntsman: Winter's War" is now playing in theaters, and if I had to guess, I'd say Universal Studios wanted to capitalize on Hemsworth's star power and is hoping the addition of an ice queen to its cast of characters will appeal to families. The problem is, Queen Freya (played by Emily Blunt) — the ice queen here — might look a bit like Elsa from "Frozen," but she is no Elsa. She's quite evil at times and might scare young kids lured by the film's ads promoting two powerful sisters at war in a magical land.

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" again stars Hemsworth and Theron, but this time minus Stewart as Snow White, although Snow White gets mentioned a handful of times. It opens with a history of the two sisters — the evil Ravenna (Theron) and her younger sister, Freya. Freya is naive and in love and also hasn't come into the magical powers the women in their family are gifted with. Ravenna dotingly reassures Freya she will find her magic someday, and Freya does so after her beloved newborn child is murdered about nine months later. Freya's heart turns to ice, and she becomes an ice queen, terrorizing other kingdoms in a quest to claim as many crowns as possible. To do so, Freya builds an army by kidnapping children from different villages and raising them to become Huntsmen, skilled soldiers who are taught that love is a sin punishable by death. One of those children is Eric, who grows to become the Huntsman from the first film (Hemsworth). As a young adult, however, he fell in love in with and married a fellow Huntswoman, Sara (played by Jessica Chastain), and was left for dead after Freya demanded her soldiers kill them both.

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" is oddly both a prequel and a sequel, spending a good 30 minutes or so in the past before the events of "Snow White and the Huntsman." Then the story jumps ahead seven years to events after "Snow White and the Huntsman." Ravenna is still believed dead after the events of the first movie but her magical mirror has gone missing. Snow White sends the prince, who is now a king, to request Eric's help in finding it. Thus, a new adventure begins.

What parents should know

If you're attracted to this movie because of Freya, the ice queen, you should know that she's very much a villain in this story, although she proves to have some redeeming quality. She threatens children who look approximately 10 – 12 with death and insists they abandon the concept of love. She and Ravenna — who actually isn't in the movie as much as you'd expect — kill many innocent people. Sara also reminded me of Merida from "Brave," so it seems Universal is attempting to capitalize on some of Disney and Pixar's most popular characters. The problem is, it just doesn't work in the context of this story. The story is too weak and patched together to support such an effort, and neither character is role-model worthy here because they both come across as villains more often than not.

There is also a good bit of fantasy violence as various characters fight with swords, bows and arrows, knives and their fists. There is also a fair amount of mild profanity, mostly from the dwarves who argue and insult each other often. Sexual situations are also implied, but the camera cuts away shortly after characters kiss passionately.

Truthfully, I neither liked nor disliked "The Huntsman: Winter's War." It was a so-so and forgettable movie for me, although there were some funny moments and Hemsworth is as charming as ever in his role. The costumes are also beautifully done, and some of the special effects are really good. Others, however, are not.

I overheard a lot of men after my screening saying they enjoyed it because of the action and humor, but if you're considering taking the family, I'd recommend waiting to rent the Blu-ray.

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. It is now playing in theaters.