Snow White and the Huntsman is the kind of movie that’s difficult to write about at length because it’s one of those perfectly fine, middle-of-the-road star vehicles that Hollywood excels at. You know the kind, it’s enjoyable enough to keep you interested while you’re sitting in the theatre but the moment you step out into the real world, the movie leaves your mind completely. Any post-movie discussions you’d have with your friends might go like this, “I liked it. The costumes were cool.” “Yeah, it was okay.”
And that’s just the problem with Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s just okay. It lacks anything content, acting or story-wise to make it an epic (or even mildly memorable) movie-going experience.
This latest incarnation of the Snow White story by first-time director Rupert Sanders sees Charlize Theron as the evil queen Ravenna, a black magic-infused woman bent on holding onto her legendary beauty at all costs. She relies on the advice of a creepy shape-shifting mirror creature who tells her the key to keeping her youth forever is to eat the heart of the fairest young woman in the land, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), who’s the daughter of the King that Ravenna callously murdered on their wedding night. She’s kept Snow locked in a castle tower for over a decade, making those who were loyal to the King believe that she’s long dead and all hope is lost.
When Ravenna sends her psychopathic brother Finn (Sam Spruell) to fetch Snow White from her cell for the official heart-eating, she slashes him with a nail and escapes the castle stronghold. After a chase, Snow loses the Queen’s henchmen in the centre of the dark forest at which point the titular (and uber-hunky) Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is called in to retrieve her from the treacherous place.
What follows is a series of mini adventures wherein the Huntsman realizes that the Queen is one rabbit short of a magic set, Snow White is the key to returning the kingdom to glory and that he’s not as much of a drunken loser as he believes he is. Along the way they encounter dwarves, a troll, a spirit stag and a whole bunch of adorable fairies. It’s all very quaint and at times feels appropriately escapist, but unfortunately all of the thought that went into creating a living incarnation of a fairy tale is lost due to one shaky casting choice.
For her part, Theron does a good (if a bit too shouty) job of playing the unhinged Queen. She’s certainly beautiful enough and she sells the idea that Ravenna is nothing but a black hole of rage. Hemsworth is also a strong presence in the film, giving the story its sole sympathetic character even despite his underwritten and often cliché-ridden dialogue.
The real problem here is Stewart. She’s a perfectly likable on screen presence (she’s great in Adventureland) but when you start throwing around terms like “fairest in the land” and suggest that her inner light will save humanity, she becomes problematic to the film. In this role she’s neither striking enough (certainly not compared to Theron) nor emotive enough to be believable and although she thankfully ditches her Bella Swan lip-biting and eye-blinking, she’s exchanged it for a bizarre penchant for heavy breathing and several scenes where a single tear falls down her cheek. It’s distracting and makes for a leap of faith far too large to fathom once she starts inspiring masses to stand up to the Queen.
On the plus side, the film is gorgeous to look at with its sweeping coastal vistas and its magical realms and the costumes are pure clothes porn for fashionistas (even Snow White’s roughly thrown together armour looks like it came straight off an Alexander McQueen runway). Unfortunately it’s not enough to save a draggy second act or a heroine that’s more fractured than fairy tale.
Not quite the fairest in the land, but certainly fair enough to keep you enchanted by the sets, costumes and a delightful Chris Hemsworth.