Silver Screen: Snow White and the Huntsman **1/2
In Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil queen still looks upon her reflection and asks the leading question, “Who's the fairest of them all?” But now, rather than simply reply with an image or a few disembodied words, the glass turns into a shimmering liquid that oozes down the wall, puddles in the floor, then rises up like the T1000 until it forms a cloaked, mouthless figure that converses directly with her.
That is emblematic of this 3D blockbuster update of the classic fairytale, where the name of the game is elaboration. The Snow White story is a tale, not an epic, so to inflate it to summer-movie standards it's puffed up with backstory, action-packed tangents, and lots of shiny computer effects. Every possible gap in the story is exploited as an excuse to jazz up the action, be it with a villainous sidekick for the evil queen or a random encounter with a monstrous troll that looks like it wandered right off a Lord of the Rings DVD bonus scene.
Charlize Theron is nicely cast as the evil queen Ravenna, the daughter of a peasant sorceress who used the family magic to finagle herself into a position of power by marrying and then murdering the king. Upon seizing control of the kingdom, she imprisons the king's daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), with plans to cannibalize her heart, possibly because the queen has gotten into Ye Olde Bath Salts.
But Snow White escapes, so the queen employs the Huntsman to go into the dark forest to find her. The Huntsman is not in fact a reality show on the Outdoor Network hosted by Larry the Cable Guy, but a burly widower played by Chris Hemsworth who has lapsed into drunkenness after the death of his wife. Rather than capture the escaped regent as promised, the Huntsman is struck by her resemblance to his dearly departed and decides instead to aid her in her quest, along with a group of combative dwarves who live in the forest.
Snow White and the Huntsman is not outlandishly bad. Writer Evan Daugherty, with credited assistance from Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini and Blind Side director John Lee Hancock, play fair with the adaptation, reshuffling and reimagining the characters from the Brothers Grimm fairytale without taking significant liberties. But the film feels relentlessly marketeered, reverse-engineered to suit a pre-existing demographic. The feminist rejiggering feels like a token effort here: Snow White does put up a bit more of a fight, but she still needs not one but two men to bail her out, and the love triangle between her, the Huntsman, and the handsome prince (Sam Claflin) plays like a craven attempt to recapture the box-office magic of another series in which Kristen Stewart must choose between two suitors.
Speaking of star Stewart, let's charitably say she is miscast. The awkwardness starts early on when the mirror declares her more lovely and fair than Theron, which should prompt an immediate recount. But Stewart's shortcomings as a damsel are nothing compared to the silly sight of her in chainmail, waving a sword and laying siege to a castle. Squirrels on waterskis have looked more naturally suited to their environment. None of the performers escape entirely unscathed, perhaps because first-time feature director Rupert Sanders's primary dramatic strategy is to have his performers speak quietly, then emote by shouting the last few words of the sentence.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? Still the Avengers.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.