Snow White and the Huntsman is the second movie this year based on the fairy tale of a young princess and her monstrous stepmother. But where Mirror Mirror opted for froth and camp and tra-la-la, this one puts the Grimm back into the story. Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is the name of the witch who raided Cher’s wardrobe and eats the hearts of little birds off her fingernails, like olives. She’s the one who marries a widowed king and murders him on their honeymoon, imprisoning his beautiful daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart).
Ravenna is also the really vain one who likes — no, needs — to feel good about herself. The opening scenes of Snow White and the Huntsman are hushed and serious and full of promise. Director Rupert Sanders, a veteran of high-profile TV commercials, brings the proper visual majesty and storybook beauty (even the talking mirror looks cool) and the script, co-written by Hossein Amini (Drive), seems to have a merciless sense of purpose.
And then, right about the first time the queen loses her cool and Theron loses all control of her performance, the lethargy starts to creep in. Snow White and the Huntsman does lots of things well: The problem is that they are all in the same movie. Snow’s first foray into the dark forest is scary and intense, filled with ashen tree branches and winged creatures and giant monsters. Later, Snow finds a happy forest, filled with sunshine and green grass and furry snakes and fairies riding bunny rabbits.
When the eight (soon to be seven) dwarves appear, they’re initially odd and menacing (one of them leers at Snow and says, “She’s pretty.”) But just as you realize there are famous actors hidden underneath all the latex and wigs (including Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins), the dwarves also turn into comic relief — funny little men prone to slapstick and hijinks and all the sorts of childish Munchkin business that Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage probably abhors.
The huntsman tasked by the queen with tracking down Snow White is played by Chris Hemsworth, who had been on quite a roll (Thor, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods), but is now revealed to be merely mortal, like everyone else, and incapable of saving every movie he’s in.
And then there’s Stewart. The actress has a bum rap of being inexpressive and moribund as Bella in the Twilight movies. But at least she’s physically suited for that role. In Snow White and the Huntsman, this talented but woefully miscast actress is expected to rally an entire army of soldiers, even though she usually looks like she forgot the combination to her locker.
And like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the movie breaks from the original story with an elaborate new climax featuring a Braveheart-scale war. This has become the new go-to finale in Hollywood for any fantasy films starring young women. What ever happened to proms? When Snow rides into battle wielding a sword, you want to tell her to put that thing down before she pokes her eye out. And eat a sandwich, will ya?
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson.
Director: Rupert Sanders.
Screenwriters: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini.
Producers: Sam Mercer, Palak Patel, Joe Roth.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 129 minutes. Violence, gore, frightening images. Opens Friday June 1 at area theaters.