Gorgeous visuals and seven perfectly-cast dwarves can't breathe any life into Snow White and the Huntsman, a cluttered version of the fairy tale that never focuses enough of its energy in a character or a story thread long enough to gain momentum. Haphazardly built around a misguided performance by Charlize Theron, and desperate to simultaneously attract fantasy fans, action fans, and yes, probably Twilight fans, it's a messy pile of material that can't even stay interesting long enough to be a train wreck.
As an actress, Theron has always been willing to cut herself down for a role, whether that's her Academy Award-winning turn in Monster or her unfairly overlooked knockout performance in last year's Young Adult, but here, her sense of humor backfires. She plays the witch Ravenna with too much self-awareness, a non-stop invisible wink at the viewer that there's something funny about a gorgeous Hollywood starlet playing a woman whose vanity is crucial to her survival, desperately gasping for the mirror's approval with unfortunately accurate comic timing and slinking around her prisoners, lips pursed, like a queen bee from a teen drama. For the most part, it's only a bad performance in that it's the wrong performance -- it might've worked if director Rupert Sanders was making a film with a sense of humor -- but even then, there are a few up-to-11 moments that devolve into plain old camp.
Without a threatening villain, the film's only hope is a decent hero, but the script is a mess of coincidence and half-baked ideas that force the characters around a nondescript countryside until a trio of writers who remember the Lord of the Rings movies were kinda long shrug impatiently and decide that Snow White should probably be competent by now. They start in a sloppy prologue that sets up our heroine as a true lover of nature, before jumping to future where a Kristen Stewart-age Snow is a prisoner in a kingdom so drained that nature is literally dying. With one visually interesting but totally nonsensical development, she escapes from Ravenna (I guess she's never looked out her window the entire time she's been imprisoned) and flees into a dark forest, which is conveniently too dangerous for Ravenna's troops to enter alone but not dangerous enough for Snow White to actually die. The troops go back to the castle, where Ravenna dangles a 15-Minute MacGuffin in front of The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to convince him to enter the forest, where he immediately switches sides and runs off with Snow White.
Despite the script problems, Stewart does her best as Snow White, executing what little she has with competence, if not flair. A scene where she rallies the troops is believable enough, even if she can't muster a physically intimidating presence. Hemsworth fares the best, even mustering a little dramatic traction, thanks in no small part to the fact that his Huntsman actually has an arc, about his wife helping him transform from a nobody into a man and how he turned right back into a nobody the moment she she was killed. There's also a character named Will played by Sam Claflin that feels like a remnant of a Twilight-ish love triangle that isn't so much written out as it is awkwardly ignored, with scenes suggesting a whole bunch of mutual interest building to nothing at all. On the villain's team, Ravenna is accompanied by her creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell), but the best thing he's able to bring to the table is (apologies) his creepy-looking face. Hints of a more developed character appear in one scene, but disappear just as quickly.
The film takes a big leap in the middle, when Snow White and the Huntsman stumble into a fairy forest and encounter the Seven Dwarves, who are played by a roster of character actors who I'd watch read the phone book (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan and Brian Gleeson). The forest scenes are the complete opposite of the ugly fantasy world of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, deftly mixing fantasy with reality, right down to the dazzling computer trickery that shortens the dwarf cast. Everywhere else, though, Sanders flails, with choppy, uninteresting action scenes that are indistinguishable from a million castle sieges and swordfights, and the laziest, nuance-free payoff imaginable. With a shocking $170m price tag, it's yet another expensive summer disaster that illustrates a bunch of money, bankable names, and an existing brand are worthless without a clear vision to hold them together.
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