Much like her character usurps control of a long-ago kingdom in the fairy tale reimagining "Snow White and the Huntsman," Charlize Theron steals the show from the title characters.
Kristin Stewart ("Twilight") and Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") do well as the film's respective namesakes, but neither they nor an all-star group of dwarves can completely take the focus from Theron's villainous Queen Ravenna. The Oscar winner (for "Monster") chews up the scenery - in the most positive sense of the phrase - while infusing the audience with senses of both revulsion and pity for her character.
A lot of credit also goes to first-time feature director Rupert Sanders and screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini for giving new life to a tale with which most people are already quite familiar. This new version of the Snow White story borrows much more from the imagery of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" than the Disney version. While it's not quite on the level of those inspirations, the film nonetheless presents an intriguing world of rich visuals and interesting characters.
Stewart plays Snow White, a princess whose physical beauty combines with her loving nature to truly make her (say it with me now) the "fairest of them all." When the queen learns of this from a version of the famous "Mirror, mirror, on the wall" you've never seen before, she sets out to kill her rival. Under the vague but easy-to-follow rules of the spell that grants her magical powers and renewable youth, this will also seal her immortality.
When Snow White escapes to the mystical dark forest, a huntsman (Hemsworth) is reluctantly dispatched to bring her back. Instead he winds up helping the young woman escape and getting caught up in a battle in which he thinks he has no interest.
Stewart, whose acting talents are often maligned in part, I think, due to anti-"Twilight" backlash, has no trouble playing Snow White with the innocence and empathy that draw other characters to hers. She may not command attention in every scene, but she does a good job and isn't just Bella Swan in the Middle Ages. Hemsworth, meanwhile, demonstrates a world-weariness in the huntsman that contrasts well with his rebellious, confident Thor role.
Snow White and the Huntsman
- Starring: Kristin Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron.
- Directed by: Rupert Sanders.
- Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.
And, not to sound like a broken record, Theron is terrific, shifting between eye-bulging evil and frightened little girl, often within the same scene. You won't be rooting for Ravenna, but you will understand how she got so twisted in the first place.
All the elements you associate with Snow White are in the film, but not always in ways you'd expect. The dwarves, played with the help of special effects by actors including Ian McShane ("Deadwood"), Bob Hoskins ("Hook") and Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead"), don't take Snow White in as their live-in housekeeper for example, but play an important role and provide some needed comic relief.
Despite the source material, this is not a movie for children. There's not much blood, probably in an effort to keep the film's PG-13 rating, but there's plenty of violence and disturbing images that help set the tone but wouldn't be good for younger viewers.
Despite that, the filmmakers try to stay true to the idea that the real advantage the princess has over the queen is her love for others. That helps add a dimension to "Snow White and the Huntsman" beyond the obvious eye-candy appeal.