Classic fairy tale updated with an adrenaline rush and a cool, complex evil queen.
Even before a character declares that Snow White is “The One” — that is, the only person with a chance to defeat the evil queen and restore harmony in the kingdom — there was a Matrix/Keanu Reeves vibe to the central performance of Kristen Stewart in the title role of the new Snow White and the Huntsman.
Stewart’s Snow White is such a likable presence she makes the animals bow in her presence and even takes on a violent, unhappy troll (she’s the troll whisperer!), which is great, but it doesn’t give a performer much to work with. Goodness is not nearly as much fun to play as evil or the flawed anti-hero, so Stewart is stuck in the middle with all the other actors having a blast around her.
That might be too bad for Stewart’s thespian ambitions, but it makes for an entertaining movie that is closer to Lord of the Rings than a classic fairy tale rendition of the Snow White fable. And no, I’m not saying that Snow White and the Huntsman is anywhere near the quality of Lord of the Rings, but it is a more serious take on the fairy tale genre, featuring a delightfully depraved performance by Charlize Theron. She is Ravenna, the evil queen, who kills her husband the king on their wedding night and banishes his 10-year-old daughter, Snow White, to the tower to languish away.
The EQ is presented as a complex character whose childhood and that of her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), her main henchman, provided a disturbing background that led to her evil ways. Not that she gets a pass for being an evil bitch, but she isn’t a one-dimensional spell-casting monster. There is almost a feminist slant to her mindset that men have all the fun and she figured out a way to hoard into their territory by killing kings and taking over. Apparently she is a serial king killer.
Eventually Snow White manages to escape. This leads to the queen needing the Huntsman of the title to track her down. Since Chris Hemsworth was coming off double duty as Thor, he didn’t have to change his hairstyle. He just had to exchange his hammer for an axe and he was good to go.
Hemsworth gets to play the anti-hero, the guy who just wants to get paid for finding Snow White, but once cast under her spell of goodness, he becomes her reluctant guardian.
There is also a prince (played by Sam Clafin), but the writers pretty much made him irrelevant by giving the Huntsman the primary gig as the one with the magic lips.
So what about the Seven Dwarves, you ask? While it may not be politically correct to enjoy the fact that full-size actors were digitally reworked to be small enough for their roles (think of the real little people out there who lost a chance at some serious income), you have to love the casting coup the digital shrinkage allowed. It’s like a British gangster movie jammed into the middle of Snow White with such stalwarts of the genre as Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan playing the dwarves.
First time director Rupert Sanders took advantage of a great cast and solid screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Hossein Amini (Drive), to make a nice impression with his debut behind the camera. The action sequences are crisp and he gives Theron plenty of room to shine.
When it comes down to the “catfight” between the two ladies, Snow White and the Huntsman delivers a finish that will please action fans and fairytale followers alike.
Snow White and the Huntsman ***
Directed by Rupert Sanders; rated PG-13
Ridley Scott, welcome back to the genre you helped define and expand with Alien and Blade Runner. Prometheus, featuring sumptuous 3-D landscapes and a new Ripley-like protagonist embodied by Noomi Rapace, is an intelligent summer blockbuster that explores our place in the universe and the notion that spirituality and science can co-exist.
My fellow film critics and I tend to use previous films of a similar genre to compare and contrast the worthiness of the latest entry in that genre. However, when your film is titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, there isn’t much hope of finding a similar effort for a side by side comparison.