Saturday, April 9, 2016

A terrific female cast ... and Chris Hemsworth

Perhaps because of the presence of Australian Chris Hemsworth, we are getting The Huntsman: Winter's War a full two weeks before you in the U.S. are getting it. (I assume you are from the U.S., but you could be from anyplace, in which case, my apologies to you for assuming you are American.) It opened here on Thursday.

But Hemsworth is not what gives me a smidgen of interest in seeing this film, though it's only a smidgen.

Simply put, this movie has about the best assemblage of female acting talent in any movie I can think of recently -- which is all the more shocking because it's just a shitty FX-heavy sequel to a shitty FX-heavy movie. (I'm assuming Snow White and the Hunstman was shitty, though did not actually see it to have any authority behind my judgment.)

Charlize Theron was in the first one, so her involvement should not be (and wasn't) much of a surprise to me when I learned of it. But Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain? What's going on here?

What's going on, of course, is that it is, and always has been, difficulty for actors to resist wads of money being waved in front of their faces. I get it. I could not resist a wad of money being waved in front of my face, and it would be a far smaller wad than the one that was waved in front of theirs.

But Chastain and Blunt in particular have always impressed me as selective women, women who have made excellent arthouse work that gave their characters agency and stood for something progressive. Theron has had a more varied career of hits and misses, but she's also the only one of the group who has an Oscar (and was talked about as a surefire nominee last year for Mad Max: Fury Road, though that never transpired).

None of these women are new to blockbusters. In the past two years, Chastain has made the big sci-fi epic kind of her thing, as she was in the biggest scale space movie of both 2014 (Interstellar) and 2015 (The Martian). I'm sure healthy paychecks accompanied both jobs. Twenty fourteen also saw Blunt try on her bankability in a couple high-profile roles, one of which was a big hit with me (Edge of Tomorrow) and one of which was a major miss (Into the Woods). Like Chastain, Theron has also recently appeared in a big movie for Ridley Scott (Prometheus), but she's also not above idiotic comedies (A Million Ways to Die in the West).

So why should the Huntsman sequel -- actually a prequel -- seem so different for these three?

I'm sure it's a totally subjective thing, but to me, the movies listed in the above paragraph seemed like good bets, while this one does not. Each of those movies, even the Seth MacFarlane comedy, are high concept in some way, movies they would have seemed smart to involve themselves in if they'd been hits. And a number of those movies were hits, whether critical, commercial or both.

The Huntsman? It's a total cash grab. Again, I didn't see Snow White and the Huntsman, but was that anyone's idea of a promising new franchise, one that tried to clear the low bar of being about more than just making money? It made $155 million in the U.S., which is no small sum, but it also cost $170 million to make. Okay, internationally it made nearly $400 million -- a solid hit. But few movies, on their surface (because that's the only level on which I can actually judge this), seem to be more emblematic of the soulless Clash of the Titans-style approach to churning out big-budget FX movies for the masses. (And a sizeable chunk of the money probably came from Twilight fans showing up to watch Kristen Stewart -- who will not appear in the sequel.)

You're better than this, I want to say to Jessica, Emily and Charlize. You can do better.

But these ladies have a retirement to plan for. Blunt may be only 33, but Chastain and Theron are 39 and 40, respectively. And we all know what Hollywood does to women over 40 -- or more accurately, does not do. It does not employ them ... at least, not in roles where they can make very much money.

Maybe I should look at the prospect of seeing The Huntsman: Winter's War as a way to contribute to the retirement of three of my favorite actresses, many years in the future though I hope it is.

Then again, I'd be seeing it for free with my critics card, so I can't help them anyway.

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