Because once you see Ravenna (Theron) talk to her ghostly golden buddy who lives in the mirror, once you see her bathe in something (milk?) that is then showered out on the peasantry, once you see her turn back into a human from a flock of inky ravens, you really aren’t going to care too much about Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Imprisoned by her stepmother queen after the death of her father, Snow White escapes just as the queen has decided to kill her. (Why wait all those years? That is just one of the questions this movie isn’t going to answer for you.) Ravenna sends her brother (Sam Spruell) to recapture Snow White, but he loses her in the dark forest, a creepy place most people don’t know well. She hires the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to help lead her brother to Snow White and drag her back to the castle so Ravenna can eat her heart or something — something to do with her still beating heart (as an explanation as to why they don’t just kill Snow while on the road).
But the huntsman is no fan of the queen, and after the queen’s brother taunts him by saying she won’t fulfill her promise to revive his dead wife, the huntsman defects and helps Snow White get away. Eventually, there are dwarfs (including but not limited to Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones) and William (Sam Claflin), a childhood friend of Snow White’s and seemingly a good candidate for charming and princelike, also shows up to help Snow escape and eventually fight the queen.
Not just fight the queen, but really take it to her. With an army, which Snow leads, all Bella of Arc, decked out in armor. The scene where she rallies the men to fight the queen is nice, very St. Crispin’s Day speech. It’s no “Those are brave men ... let’s go kill them,” but then Peter Dinkledge’s Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones is really owning the whole fantasy medieval thing right now. (An aside: If that’s what you’re looking for with this movie, save your ticket money and spend it at iTunes or with Comcast to check out Thrones. Even if you’ve never watched an episode before — perhaps especially if you’ve never watched an episode before — the last three episodes of the recently finished second season is a good place to start.) This Snow White in theory would be at home on that show, though, with its magic and its battling rulers. Like that series, this Snow White is gritty and dark and all about the warrior spirit. But I couldn’t help thinking while I watched Stewart deliver what is supposed to be an impassioned bit of oratory what a much better moment that scene would be if she could, at all, act. I recall once thinking that Stewart had some chops, though I no longer recall why. There are a lot of different ways she could have played this Snow White — as an angry girl bent on revenge, as a frightened kidnap victim forced to face her prisoner, as a reluctant ruler who comes to accept her role. Stewart chooses instead to play her like, well, like a girl who might be fighting with her angsty vampire boyfriend. Without actually being whiny, she brings a kind of whiny vibe to the role.
Of course Snow White is a tough role to begin with. You name the adaptation — Disney’s cartoon, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, the recent Mirror, Mirror — the Evil Queen is always more interesting than Snow White. The Evil Queen has magic, that mirror, some sort of youth complex, she asks for the very Quentin Tarantino-like murder of Snow White by having her heart cut out. The Evil Queen is, in short, messed up. That’s a much more interesting character to watch than the girl who is super pretty and super nice. Oh, really, a bluebird alights on Snow’s finger? The Evil Queen hires a guy to put a girl’s heart in a box and bring it to her. Which one would you watch in a sequel?
In Mirror Mirror, Julia Roberts plays the queen like she’s a snarky queen bee from Desperate Housewives Royal Kingdom, which was fun. Here, Theron plays her like a woman constantly in the throes of crazy rage. You suspect she might eat puppies for breakfast and spend her day pulling the heads off dolls. Theron makes her a fiery storm of a woman. She’s not a subtle character, to be sure, but, along with some truly nifty costuming and special effects that have her age and then get younger-looking, Theron’s performance makes her a compelling character, particularly in comparison to Stewart’s tepid Snow White.
And, the queen gets an interesting back story. She isn’t just obsessed with being fairest of them all — she’s power-hungry and uses her “beauty” to protect her in a world where it is the only power a woman can wield over men. It’s a nice little plot point, and her story makes more sense than other parts of the movie.
Thanks to Theron’s performance and the truly captivating set design, the messy but watchable Snow White and the Huntsman manges to be a nice gloomy fairy tale. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and brief sensuality. Directed by Rupert Sanders with a screenplay by Evan Daughtery, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, Snow White and the Huntsman is two hours and 7 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures.