Let's start with this: it's hard to fully stomach a movie which, as part of its premise, requires you to accept that Charlize Theron -- even with a lot of CGI and makeup to make her look less beautiful -- is about to be supplanted by Kristen Stewart as the greatest beauty in the land. Talk about suspension of disbelief. OK, so that's a long way of saying that I find Stewart to be a sullen bore as an actress. But it'd be one thing if she was the only thing working against Snow White and the Huntsman. Sadly, there's plenty more.
This is a tale that ought to be familiar to movie fans by now. After all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, released in 1937, was Disney's first full-length animated feature film, making it quite a piece of cinematic history. There's nothing animated about this iteration of the beloved fairy tale, nor is there much that is family friendly. The film opens with Ravenna (Theron) working her way into the heart of Snow White's (Stewart) father King Magnus (Noah Huntley) and, seemingly with the help of an enchanting spell, murdering him on their wedding night. After displacing Magnus on the throne, Ravenna locks a very young Snow White away in a tower and mostly forgets about her. No one in the Kingdom of Tabor thought to question to convenience of Magnus' death or the disappearance of his lone daughter, I guess.
Ravenna is a vampire, only rather than blood she feeds on the beauty surrounding her. The powerful sorceress -- fixated on her looks with the help of the mirror, mirror on the wall -- absorbs the youth and the light everywhere in her kingdom; this includes her subjects directly, yes, but also, you can infer, the very land over which she rules. By the time a now-teenaged Snow White manages to escape the tower that has been her prison for years, Tabor has been transformed into a gray, wet hellhole. Snow White's freedom is earned in the nick of time. She is only afforded the chance to escape because Ravenna has finally decided to feed on her, believing Snow White's heart to be the key to her own immortality.
Snow White flees into the dangerous Dark Forest and sent off in pursuit of her is the Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth). He is a bit of lost soul, thanks to the untimely death of his wife, and he is also one of the few men in Ravenna's kingdom capable of tracking her through such dangerous territory. Learning that the rewards he has been promised by Ravenna for Snow White's capture are not in the offing, the Huntsman shifts from pursuer to protector of, especially once it becomes clear that Snow White can restore Tabor to its past glory. Snow White picks up more help in the Dark Forest in the form of the iconic seven dwarves; there is no Sneezy or Happy or Doc in this version of the fairy tale, but I think you'll find the dwarves to be the best part of the whole thing. With the help of special effects, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Nick Frost and the late, great Bob Hoskins are among them and what a treat they are, bringing a much-needed lightness to what is a dreary affair at times. She also reunites with William (Sam Claflin), a childhood friend and the son of a powerful Duke, thus giving Snow White the force she needs to challenge Ravenna in a final showdown.
I can't say I wasn't captivated by the whole tale. Snow White and the Huntsman is visually stunning above all. The special effects are powerful and transformative, yet they don't distract from the plot. Ravenna's castle alone -- with waves crashing against the oceanside cliffs upon which it is perched -- is almost worth the price of admission. The adventure elements work too. Hemsworth in particular was a pleasant surprise and, well, I've said my piece on the dwarves.
But there were two things that prevented me from hailing this movie. First, there is Stewart. Her dull, incessant brooding sucked the life out of so many scenes. Snow White should be bubbly, shouldn't she? She has to be if she's to be the antithesis of the Evil Queen. You're never going to get that kind of performance out of Stewart, of course, but, to be fair, it's not like she really got a lot to work with from director Rupert Sanders and the writing team of Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini.
Speaking of the writing, what a thematic mess this is. The fairy tale has some simple lessons to teach us about vanity and the value of inner beauty. This cinematic adaptation tugs and pulls on those ideas until they are spread far too thin. What you're left with is a series of bizarre half-statements about feminism, the objectification of women and even conservation in a weird way. Theron's character was particularly disappointing in this regard. She could have been a tragic villain, but instead ended up more closely resembling a medieval "feminazi" concocted by Rush Limbaugh.
Better casting and a more direct thematic approach would have done wonders, which is a shame because Snow White and the Huntsman already has some wonder going for it.