This year’s second Snow White flick offers a grimly epic, rather than goofy, take on the fairy tale source material. Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart stars as the titular heroine, Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers, Thor) as her ax-wielding counterpart. An evil, youth-stealing queen (Charlize Theron) has usurped the throne of Snow White’s father and imprisoned her for, let’s say, ten years. She will become an immortal tyrant if Snow and her crew can’t put the screws to the she-devil and restore peace and freedom and the like to her kingdom.
It is a maxim of storytelling that the kind of story you tell matters less than how you go about telling it. That Snow White has a thin premise does not automatically condemn it, but its lackluster script and and half-committed acting do. It trades on mythological overtones about destiny and purity like they’re calling cards for something we should care about, yet seems to understand nothing about how to invest a film with mythological gravitas. The result is something that’s cheaply fanciful, a boring joke at the expense of true fascination with the mysterious and unknown.
The film’s saving grace is the art direction. Everything looks really good. And we’re even given a relief from the incessantly oppressive mud and blackness of the decrepit kingdom during an interlude in a place where fairies and powerful spirits seem at home. This sequence has some of the most fun creature and environmental design of any fantasy film I can think of; it’s literally like a children’s picture book come to life. The whimsical weirdness of this section provides a visceral sense of wonderful otherness lacking in so many fantasy films, including some of the very best. It looks like the movie I dreamed of when Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct The Hobbit, a dream which has since been swallowed by grim reality–much like the swallowing up of the true fairy tale section by the rest of this relentlessly drab film.
It’s not unreasonable to think of the movie as a kind of anti-Twilight for Stewart: the passive damsel metamorphed into the warrior princess. But she unfortunately remains more Bella, more classically “Snow White” than she is Xena, Buffy or Mononoke. Even when she’s mustering the troops for war the girl has no spark, no presence–she’s a blank face when the movie demands a fierce one. Emma Watson could upstage her with a single glare. If Jennifer Lawrence carried The Hunger Games virtually in spite of itself, Snow White and the Huntsman ekes by as an inoffensive fantasy diversion in spite of Kristen Stewart.