Snow White and the Huntsman
Directed by Rupert Sanders
For the second time in four months, a Hollywood studio has spent millions of dollars on the unenviable task of trying to make the character Snow White remotely interesting. In Snow White and the Huntsman, the burden of proof nominally falls to Kristen Stewart, who plays a half-ethereal semi-feminist version of the potentially drippy fairy-tale heroine. She's supported, though, by an army: not just the teeming faceless hordes who participate in a Lord of the Rings-lite showdown at the climax, but an overqualified supporting cast, a gaggle of visual effects technicians, plus Colleen Atwood designing the hell out of some more fantasy-world costumes.
This leaves the oft-maligned Stewart without much room for a proving ground. When she's breaking out of a castle prison early in the movie, or gamely dancing with a dwarf later on, her roughed-up princess has the twitchy allure Stewart often displays outside of the Twilight morass. She still plays with her hair a little and her mouth still sits in a semi-permanent miniature sulk, but at least this Snow White shows a little more sand than Bella Swan. Too bad, then, that that the character's rejiggered status as a vague chosen one (only she can free the kingdom from wicked-queen dominance) feels comparable to Bella's innate appeal to Edward: possessing a passive sort of anti-magic. In place of actual abilities, there's just something about Kristen. Yet even given this star-as-savior shtick, the movie can't decide what to do with its leading lady beyond recall her other famous role.
The movie's recognizable faces have this problem, too; scarcely a cast member is used unexpectedly. Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman, sent to kill Snow White before he takes her side and forms the other half of the movie's supposedly central relationship, wields an axe and a flask instead of Thor's hammer, and that substitution is about all he gets. The movie introduces him with some agreeably louche fisticuffs, before he has to settle for the merest hint of a love triangle with Snow White and another character who barely has a dozen lines. Even Charlize Theron, as the evil queen Ravenna, redoes Mavis Gehry from Young Adult, as a full-grown witch, her youth-obsessed primping and pitiless eyes intact. Theron at least gets to chew the scenery over encroaching age while wearing those Atwood costumes and hair that goes from Ren-Faire overgrown to golden crown-braids. She's the actor best-outfitted to handle the straight-faced goth-drama tone—and this is in a movie with Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Toby Jones seamlessly turned into the story's dwarfs (and then sadly relegated to the sidelines).
Director Rupert Sanders finds his seriousness by taking the fairy tale and stretching every element into its own subplot or setpiece—then underserving them all. At first, it's novel to see the story treated with what feels like reverence to the Grimm spirit if not always the letter. But this method turns ponderous when you realize Sanders hasn't much to say beyond the same old bromides about sacrifice (there isn't much) and inspiring a nation (still uninspired). Even at its emptiest, his movie looks great with its gray-black forestry and bizarre hidden creatures, and most of the visual effects work is excellent—no longer a given in a big summer fantasy. It all appears more polished and expensive than Tarsem's Mirror Mirror, but that movie had its own personality, silly jokes and all. In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman has less emotional heft than a light-comic version of the same material; it's eye-filling and coherent, but little else.
Opens June 1