The tagline for Willow – one of many predecessors from which Snow White and the Huntsman unabashedly lifts – was, “Forget all you know, or think you know.” Good advice, because we all knew this was going to be the good Snow White movie (the Lord of the Rings version, we were kinda-sorta promised), while Tarsem Singh’s version would be a silly, clueless joke. Yeah, and we also knew a G.I. Joe sequel was coming out this summer, until a week or so ago.
As it turns out, Snow White and the Huntsman is the celluloid equivalent of a wicked queen in this equation, a soulless predator undeniably easy on the eyes that longs to be all-powerful, and can only attempt to be so by sucking the life out of everything nearby. It’s a movie that actually would have been more appealing if it had starred lackluster Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.
“Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us, they offer us to the dogs like scraps.” This is what passes for pillow talk from Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who is apparently so-named for her ability to periodically dissolve into a flock of ravens. Having conned her way into marriage with the king by setting up a scenario where she played the fake hostage, she promptly stabs him and becomes the evil stepmother we’re so familiar with. Only she has motivation and backstory this time: Her mom was assaulted by a king, but not before putting a spell on her daughter to ensure she’d have beauty forever – all the better to enslave males with – except if someone innocent happens to break the spell somehow. “Somehow” is a key touchstone in this movie, as it is the only explanation for almost every major story development.
But let’s back up. This is a movie that doesn’t trust the audience to follow a story that every single person in the audience is all but guaranteed to know already (the implied rape element, one hopes, rules out the likelihood of children in the audience who are new to the fairy tale). So we get Chris Hemsworth narrating and adopting a Scottish accent, which occasionally falters into an English accent, which isn’t actually his natural accent anyway. I have a strong suspicion that the opening scenes were meant to play wordless, and would do so quite effectively. We’ll never know. Like with The Passion of the Christ on its DVD’s “no subtitles” option (which I recommend; it plays like a silent film, as it was meant to), it’s the visuals that count when we know the basic story backwards and forwards.
Anyway, the queen’s magic mirror, or rather the CGI hooded critter that oozes out of the mirror (how come it’s never JUST a damn mirror, like the story says? Tarsem had Julia Roberts walking into the thing and finding a secret island), has waited until little Snow White grew up to be English-accented Kristen Stewart before bothering to mention that, oh yeah, Ravenna’s meant to cut her heart out and eat it in order to become immortal. Fortunately for K-Stew White, Ravenna depends upon an incredibly hapless brother (Sam Spruell, who looks like a demented albino Geoffrey Rush), who gets outwitted easily so that Stew White can copy The Fugitive to make her daring escape.
So Ravenna and her idiot bro hire the Huntsman (Hemsworth, whose character’s actual name is never mentioned even though we’re told his wife called it out when she died) to bring back the girl, in exchange for which the queen will resurrect his dead family. Again, the brother screws things up royally by telling the Huntsman this is all a lie before he has K-Stew in hand. Being a good-hearted guy, and the least beer-bellied drunk in the world, the Huntsman realizes he’s been used by evil, and absconds with Snow White into the Dark Forest. We should note that the land has decayed during the reign of Ravenna; it used to look all dorky and Ivanhoe-style, but now it’s goth and craggy and awesome.
If you saw director Rupert Sanders’ impressive proof-of-concept reel at Comic-Con, know that most of that stuff takes place in the forest, with monsters and creatures and things we won’t spoil, except to ask why giant angry carnivores in movies always stop and take a moment to roar in the faces of their prey before actually trying to attack.
Enough about the plot. You know where the story’s going, and the billboards of Stewart in remarkably form-fitting armor (considering she’s the only woman in this world to wear any and it just happens to be available) pretty much tell you what the climax is going to be. The much-touted people who brought you Tim Burton’s Disney’s Alice in Wonderland clearly thought that movie’s finale was key to its success, and copied it. That, the fake Scottish accents and totally unresolved love triangle (granted, Alice would have been unhappy with either the Hatter or her stiff hubby; but if you want to know whether Snow White ultimately marries the Huntsman or Prince William, keep wondering, as it’s apparently being saved for a sequel nobody’s waiting on).
Then there are the dwarfs, or dwarves, depending on your preferred consonant. Since Disney has the trademark on seven, this story gives us… eight minus one (you’ll see, or, I hope, not). And then one of those is blind and can’t fight, so functionally that leaves six. But, also, they serve no plot purpose whatsoever. Seriously. They crawl through a sewer at one point, which they can do better because they’re smaller, allegedly, but they’re also all fat, which means skinny K-Stew could probably have done it just as easily. We’re told they’re miners because they can see gold in the dark, a trait that is mentioned once and never brought up again. And if I were a little person actor, I’d frankly be offended that rather than hire actual talented dwarf actors in search of work, Hollywood has to pay top dollar for name actors and then digitally shrink them.
It’s hard to stay offended, though, when they’re the only aspect of the film with significant entertainment value. Things are so self-serious onscreen, yet when you see Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Brendan Gleeson’s kid, Toby Jones, and some guy named Johnny Harris, all with silly haircuts and big noses, one briefly remembers that indeed, adventure movies are supposed to be fun. As absurd as it would have been, hearing those guys break into the Smurfs theme song would have made the movie a total win. (You’re imagining that right now, aren’t you? Isn’t it amazing?)
But aside from the rotten script with no logic and arbitrary magic powers for its heroine, there’s another big problem, and it’s Stewart. This sucks to say, because Stewart-bashing in some quarters really is lazy; yes, she bites her lip and twirls her hair as Bella, because that’s what horny teenage girls fucking do! This isn’t Bella Swan and the Seven Dorks (oh, how my old classmate Joe Nussbaum must now be thinking he was too ahead of the curve when he made Sydney White); rather, it’s Somebody Forgot to Give Stewart a Character. She’s a blank void, even by traditional Snow White standards (Disney’s version and Lily Collins weren’t exactly mini-Meryl Streeps). When she gives an emotional speech near the end, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t fit at all. Her choking-on-apples ability is sufficient; we’ll give her that. Too bad she chokes at everything else.
Check out my review of Mirror, Mirror here to compare.