Snow White and the Huntsman
What is it about Kristen Stewart that resists interesting and proactive heroines? While not nearly as mopey and passive as the insufferably indecisive Bella Swan, her revisionist Snow White is two hours of yet more earnest blandness and pained grimaces. To quote a far better film, "Why so serious?"
With nary an ounce of pluck, ferocity or humor to be found, Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock's aimless and overstuffed screenplay does the young actress no favors. As written, Snow makes exactly two choices in the film: to escape imprisonment at the beginning and to attack her wicked stepmother at the end. In between, she stumbles from one stunning landscape to the next, frowning and fretting as men either hunt, protect or adore her. Maybe this is another installment in the Twilight series after all.
The screenwriters should have taken a page from 1997's Ever After, in which Drew Barrymore's Snow actually had a thought in her head and some plausible skill with a sword. You know Snow White and the Huntsman is in trouble when you find yourself praying that Charlize Theron's evil queen shows up again soon to drain another victim of her soul.
And seriously, Kristen Stewart versus Charlize Theron? Trolls, fairies and Ian McShane as a dwarf aside, the most outlandish conceit in first-time director Rupert Sanders' film is that there is even a question as to who would emerge from that contest the victor.
Like a psychopathic Grace Kelly, Theron's Queen Ravenna is dangerously gorgeous and impossibly regal. With her ice-chilling smile and deadly stare, she uses what little screen time she has to reduce Stewart's meager appeal to a dramatic whimper. It's not a great part (again, look to Ever After for Sigourney Weaver's richly conceived wicked stepmom), and the screenwriters lock her in a tower for most of the film to play drag queen dress-up, but at least the movie crackles with energy and intensity whenever Theron's on screen.
Snow White starts on solid enough ground, with Ravenna murdering the king, seizing the crown, and imprisoning Snow. Her motives are vaguely feminist in nature, and there's some hope that Sanders seeks to explore female empowerment through that most disempowering of genres — the classic fairy tale. As Snow matures into womanhood and escapes her tower cell into a visually striking Dark Forest, things look promising indeed.
It's surprising then how quickly the film squanders its good premise for formulaic and unfocused storytelling. Mixing a dull Tolkienesque odyssey with Game of Thrones politics, this underheated but overdesigned fantasy-adventure gives you nothing you haven't seen before — only worse. There's barely a romance to speak of, very little action, and its emotions are relentlessly pitched somewhere between melancholy and brooding. By the time Stewart is called upon to deliver her final battle St. Crispin's-style speech, the preview audience was chuckling with derision.
Sanders proves himself to be yet another director of commercials who knows how to compose astonishing images but struggles with flaccid pacing, erratic performances and chaotic action scenes.
Chris Hemsworth, taking time off from being Thor, injects a little gruff charisma into the film as the mercenary huntsman who ends up changing his heart. But his character is too flat and disposable to compensate for the leaden storytelling and clunky dialogue. The less said of great actors Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Nick Frost playing dwarves, the better.
Snow White and the Huntsman sells itself as a bold retelling of a classic fable, where the beautiful princess takes up arms and seizes her own destiny, but delivers a enchantingly dull story in which Snow White's strength and specialness are continually spoken of but rarely shown. The movie offers few thrills but will provide some great screen-savers.