The idea underpinning Snow White and the Huntsman is a charming one. Epic summer movies use the language of fairy tale and myth to tell stories about contemporary heroes (who are The Avengers but a bunch of Olympians?); why not cut out the middleman and make a movie about a story everyone already knows?
Unfortunately, Snow White and the Huntsman expands strangely on the story every child knows before even hearing of Iron Man or Batman, making it a melange of fairy-tale and dull contemporary romance. Snow White, here, is not the sweetie who lives with seven hapless dwarfs—but, with little in the way of characterization, she’s a cipher.
Played by the vague and disassociated Kristen Stewart, Snow White spends the movie evading capture by the evil Queen’s army, but her most prominent character trait is her apparent beauty. At one point, a pursuing troll decides not to kill her simply because he gets a good look at her. Snow White, in the fairy tale and the Disney animated film, is not a dynamic character, and this film is true to form, placing at its center a young woman whose fairness has obviated the need for a personality.
As is so often the case, the film’s most intriguing character is the villain, Charlize Theron’s Ravenna. She is obsessed with her beauty and with consolidating power over Snow White’s unnamed kingdom, a land that she took over after killing Snow White’s father. Ms. Theron, chewing just the right amount of scenery, builds out the Queen into a character one misses whenever she’s not onscreen. She’s aided by the truly remarkable costume design and CGI work and hindered by the screenplay; far more thought was put into a bodice adorned with tiny bird skulls than into the specific rules governing Ravenna’s magical powers. Sometimes she gets power from sucking the beauty out of women, sometimes she does so by killing men. Ravenna can only be killed by the one person more beautiful than she—Snow White. While it’s unsporting to rank actresses according to their pulchritude, this movie’s conflation of beauty with virtue (in the case of Snow White) and power (in the case of both female leads) makes it an unfortunate necessity. Leave it at this: Kristen Stewart is more beautiful than the world’s most beautiful actress because the movie tells us so.
Given the general lack of elaboration as to Ravenna’s powers and Snow White’s character, the middle scenes of the movie are airless. In scene after scene, Snow White evades capture by the Queen’s henchmen simply by running out of the way; as an action caper, Snow White and the Huntsman lacks narrative ingenuity. Returning to Ravenna’s castle yields diminishing returns as well. Crafty though she is as an actress, Ms. Theron can shout “Bring me Snow White!” or a variation only so many times. If we miss her when she’s offscreen, we yearn for her appearances to have real heft.
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