Charlize Theron is given far too little to do as the ice-cold Queen Ravenna in Snow White & the Huntsman.
Snow White & the Huntsman is an amalgamation of scrap pieces from other stories, borrowed bits that plod forward unconvincingly into what becomes a shapeless mass of fantasy cliches. It has moments of entertaining whimsy and startling brutality, but its emotional core is emptier than a poison apple.
A retelling of Snow White marketed towards “grown-ups” (a more appropriate term here than “mature audiences”), here is a princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) locked away in a castle dungeon through most of her childhood and all of her adolescence, having her king father betrayed and killed by the dark magician Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who becomes queen. Escaping as a young adult – pure, untainted, and “the finest of them all” – Snow White goes on a quest to find the duke of a neighboring village to help her win back her kingdom.
This is a story impossible to divorce from Kristen Stewart’s other (so far only) success, Twilight: the adolescent fairytale of the pure, beautiful, and personality-vacant young female, a vessel for an audience of female teens to project themselves onto. She’s pursued by two eligible men, fighting fantastical elements, burdened with teen angst (“Watch them die, they all died because of you!”), and with the none-too-subtle religious overtones of the Twilight series still in recent memory, we can’t help but read the same message here: women, be pure (i.e., virgins) and you’ll be desired, and therefore worthwhile. At one point, which shall surprise or spoil no one, Snow White is thought dead but awoken by a kiss from a man who loves her. I know this was in the Disney adaptation, but so? Isn’t this a modern retelling? What’s the message here?
Meanwhile, there’s the standard-issue haunted forest, the kingdom having become inhospitable to plant or animal life, the village of women forced to survive on their own while their husbands fight in war, a scene featuring a forest God in the form of a deer that’s almost directly lifted from Princess Mononoke, an unconvincing Joan of Arc transformation, and a showdown between the Queen and Snow White where the audience inescapably must whisper to themselves, “Give in to your hate, and soon your journey to the dark side shall be complete!”
Pastiche isn’t always a bad thing, but there’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiary that seems to have been crossed here. Theron pulls off a chilling, effective (but sadly underutilized) performance, and the movie does look beautiful from beginning to end. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, or how to infuse a soul into all its patched-together pieces. And that’s the worst offense of all; beyond its lack of imagination, director Rupert Sanders leaves the entire movie feeling cold and lifeless. A mature retelling of Snow White should explore the damaged soul of someone who has lost everything, torn between her desire for vengeance and her own moral code. Here, we get Kristen Stewart’s blank stares, and a parable for teen chastity. It’s the perfect summer snack to tide Twilight fans over until Breaking Dawn Part 2 arrives this winter, but it will be soon forgotten.
Score: 5.5 out of 10