It only takes five minutes to realize Snow White and the Huntsman is going to be a storytelling disaster, and then another ten minutes to accept that short of taking a nap or switching your ticket out for the next showing of What to Expect When You’re Expecting that you are stuck watching as the fairy tale of your childhood is ripped apart in the most unsettling of ways. Normally, the twisting of classic stories for new audiences thrills me to no end, and I have to admit regardless of how terrible the trailers looked, I couldn’t wait to see Huntsman. A world where Snow White rejects her meek personality by embracing battles and carnage sounded better than Christmas.
The trouble with Huntsman is not that the film isn’t particularly good, the potential to be something breathtaking is there, but it lacks the fine-toothed comb necessary for twisting expectations without alienating an audience. I can forgive many things in a film, including casting Kristen Stewart, but I cannot forgive a film that’s entire climax is hinged upon a romance that is never given time to flourish. Snow White can kick ass, vanquish evil, and restore civility to her lost kingdom, but Snow White is supposed to fall in love, because her ability to love and be loved is what sets her apart from her evil stepmother. But in this retelling, Snow White’s pure love is touched upon than pushed aside for the handful of other underdeveloped story arcs, including the most compelling one: the rise and fall of the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
Maybe it’s hard to imagine anyone being more beautiful than Theron, but the truth of the matter is that her character’s story is substantially more engaging than anything Stewart tries to do with her screen time. From the moment we meet the stunning woman, she is able to ensnare men’s hearts (including the king’s) with just one eye flutter and then destroy them with one kiss. She consumes men’s hearts the way they consume her beauty, but she realizes that her weapon is also her curse.
Unlike Snow White, Ravenna also fears her power. Every time she takes a life the intensity of the experience reveals brief moments of regret. She never wanted the curse of beauty, but once it had been forced upon her as a child by her mother, Ravenna learned to accept her role. But with that acceptance also came resentment, and she learned to hate men for wanting her. It didn’t matter who the man was, even her own brother failed to receive her full trust as they grew older because he had lust in his heart for women.
Snow White is too innocent to recognize sexuality, regardless of how tough the script tries to make her. She is a woman who could have grown up to be just as vain and self-consumed as Ravenna, but her imprisonment and delicate naivety distanced her from a parallel destiny. Instead, she is loved by others without having to hide behind her beautiful face. Ravenna relied on her sexuality to seduce men, Snow White just needed to use her heart.
But there is a flaw when it comes to Snow White and Ravenna’s rivalry. Both of them are unwilling to love another. Ravenna’s deep-seated disgust of men and crippling fear that she would become something ordinary the moment her sexuality disappeared keeps her consumed with using love against others, and Snow White’s huge heart is too big to focus enough on one other person. But this brings us back to the issue that a film mostly about how love conquers all makes no sense when the one who is supposed to bring love and light back into the dark world of hate doesn’t quite accomplish that task.
Snow White and the Huntsman probably thought it was showing just enough romance before running off to be a quest film, or a high-fantasy war film, or Game of Thrones for the Twilight set, but it never looked back to make sure that foundation was sound. In the end, maybe love conquers all? Maybe men aren’t all terrible? I don’t know, because the film can’t quit finish its thought either.