For those of you who didn’t dig on Tarsem Singh‘s giddy Mirror Mirror, here is what you thought you wanted. Do not expect characters to be joking around or having a good time in Snow White and The Huntsman, as all that fun stuff is simply not cool and edgy enough for this grim universe. Mirror Mirror was for the sophisticated and playful child version of you, while talented commercial director Rupert Sanders‘ dark modern take is for that goth High School you, the person who prefers everything — even the kiddiest of things — to be dragged through an edgy, gritty filter.
Dour Snow White and The Huntsman certainly is.
In a fifteen minute cliff notes introduction, we’re quickly, and yet slowly, introduced to the reactionary Snow White (Kristen Stewart) as a child. We’re told she’s best friends with a boy named Will, who later pops up as a runner in the competition for most disposable character of the year. We’re told she’s famed for her beauty. We’re told her kingdom is dying. We’re told far too much, while hardly ever being shown. After the death of her sickly mother and the murder of her father she’s banished to a jail cell by the evil Queen: the bird heart-eating Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
During this introduction most of the film is restricted to a castle. In place of scope or laughs is pure, unfiltered exposition. The only action we get within the first thirty minutes is a snip-it of a fight featuring none of our leads. For a tent-pole film with so many locations the scale of all the set pieces leaves much to be desired. The final battle — which features the heavily marketed scene of Hemsworth and some human drones facing off against glass lackeys — is over before you know it. The set pieces lack playfulness. Every character grimaces and is always in utter fear of cracking a joke during battle.
The sole source of charisma wandering through all of this is Chris Hemsworth, one of the few action stars around who can make a slo-mo hero-shot cool. Before the Hunstman gets turned into a mope machine, Hemsworth is the only actor present who understands the right blockbuster tone: funny, but serious when it’s called for. If anyone is winking though, and excessively so, it’s Charlize Theron. Whether the laughs she elicits are intentional or not, she milks every scene for what it’s worth. It’s obvious what movie Hemsworth is in — and it’s still unknown where Stewart’s performance is — but Theron is having a blast in a highly-expensive camp classic of her own, always electing to go as broad as possible. Theron even gets to dish out the atypical cheesy villain line: “We’re not so different, are we?”
Yes, you are quite different, as the rest of the film, and its lead, aren’t having half as much fun as you are.
So far, Kristen Stewart doesn’t feel like a proper fit for films of this scope. She doesn’t have the presence needed to match the size of the film or her co-stars. Stewart has given exceptional performances — Adventureland, Into the Wild, The Runaways, and Welcome to the Rileys — but she comes off lost in these elaborate sets. When she has to deliver that rousing third act speech, the powerful bravura needed isn’t there in her performance.
After that “serious” speech, one has to ask: Who was this movie made for? It’s doubtful any little kid will enjoy seeing a) Snow White and the gang be tortured for two hours, b) Charlize Theron sucking out souls, or c) The Huntsman talking about his dead wife. (This also goes for the teen crowd, by the way.) Snow White and The Hunstman is serious, and again and again it goes out of its way to tell you so.
What’s most disappointing about Snow White and the Huntsman is how the right elements for a good movie lie buried in the overlong running time, waiting for the hands of another edit and a more lively score to make them come to life. Rupert Sanders has an eye for atmosphere and achieving a shot full of depth, as shown by a fantastic Dark Forrest sequence, but the energy of those select frames is never matched by the film as a whole.
The Upside: Charlize Theron eating a bird’s heart; the creature designs; Charlize Theron yelling; the violent black glass goons; Charlize Theron in old woman makeup; Chris Hemsworth’s authentic machismo charms; Charlize Theron’s soul sucking; a handful of striking shots and scenes; Charlize Theron.
The Downside: The set up; too serious for its own good; Kristen Stewart is miscast; Snow White mostly remains passive through the story; the action lacks size and intensity; longer than it needs to be; a CG effect which was done better 23 years ago in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; an underwhelming score from James Newton Howard; a finale without a punch, catharsis, or a rewarding fate for the evil Queen.
On The Side: Charlize Theron dropped out of J. Edgar for this, choosing the slightly more comedic role.