Review: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (evil wicked awesome stepmother)

An effective retelling of Snow White that puts the Grimm all back in.

After an evil sorceress named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) tricks her way into a kingdom’s throne, she locks up the former king’s daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), into a tower for safe keeping. Advised by her magic mirror, Snow White is Ravenna’s key to remaining young, beautiful, and powerful for all time, but the girl is also prophesied to be the evil queen’s downfall. A daring escape prompts the hiring of a man unafraid to enter the dark forest to retrieve the escaped Snow White from where she hides, a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) with his own reasons for accepting the mission. Will the princess of purity destroy the evil wicked queen, or will darkness reign for all time?

This new Snow White tale reworks the familiar trappings of the classic story in new ways, creating a fresh take while successfully incorporating many of the elements that sunk Ridley Scott’s recent Robin Hood retelling but seem to work here. This Snow White deals in not only death and darkness but also back story, specifically fleshing out who the evil queen really is and why. Kristen Stewart makes a fair princess (especially when her eyes and mouth are closed and she remains deathly still), but the real star is Charlize Theron, showcased in a complex role that dares to humanize an inhuman monster. Ravenna seems to suffer every time she commits an evil act even while reconciling it, hinting that she secretly hopes or may even welcome her inevitable destruction, and that’s the real meat and potatoes of the film.

With movies like The Lord of the Rings in the public eye, one might think sword and sorcery films, especially the retelling of classic fairy tales with modern effects, would be a sure thing for getting box office attention (right, Julia Roberts?) Instead, these movies are often panned, the most recent of which was Red Riding Hood, which only had hints of the Twilight romantic entanglements but was sold down the river for even suggesting it (it didn’t help that Catherine Hardwicke was the director of both). Unlike anachronistic animated spoofs like Hoodwinked, these films are hit and miss; there doesn’t seem to be a general reason why Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland succeeded while others have failed. There’s even a Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters film starring new box office hotness Jeremy Renner as Hansel, but that’s been pushed to a future release (and early bits revealed it looking a bit too much like Van Helsing, to be honest).

The cast for Snow White is bigger than you think. Chris Hemsworth works well as the Huntsman, right on the heels of the overdue The Cabin in the Woods and current summer darling The Avengers. Kristen Stewart proves again what anyone who’s seen The Messengers and several other films already knows: she not just badly written Bella from Twilight. The dwarves (thanks to special effects wizardry) are played by the likes of Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Nick Frost, and are thankfully written as noble warriors rather than comic relief (“Snow way!” Ugh.) Charlize Theron, however, gets the raven’s share of costumes, sets, and pure opportunity to evil up the production. A newcomer to the legend, “Finn” is Ravenna’s brother and confident, brought to life by Sam Spruell as the evil queen’s right hand and almost as much of a threat.

The real treat to this film is the story at its core. Early reviews from other critics suggest the plot is a mess, but pay attention: everything is important. There are a few longer-than-necessary stretches in the middle act, but those same scenes also help explain why the princess is truly important. At some point there’s a rallying speech to take the battle to its cause, but the people it’s delivered to have plenty of reasons to accept an impromptu Braveheart moment. From production to players to plot (and set to an appropriately dark soundtrack), Snow White and the Huntsman delivers on the film promised in the trailers, but fans of Charlize Theron, theatrical villainy, and medieval magic will find a castleful of squee within.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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