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You’ll require the kiss of a prince to awaken you from the slumber induced by Snow White and the Huntsman, a dark but at times torturously dull retelling of the classic fairy tale. Though no one wanted a repeat of Mirror Mirror, the sillier Snow White film from earlier this year, Huntsman director Rupert Sanders and a trio of screenwriters went too far in the other direction, presenting a telling so self-serious it threatens to crumble beneath the weight of Charlize Theron’s scowls.
Theron gnaws the scenery like a starved lion as Ravenna, the Evil Queen who conveniently becomes young Snow’s stepmother the day after meeting her dad. She kills him on their wedding night, thus claiming the throne for herself. And because she’s so vain—-and her stepdaughter (at first played by Raffey Cassidy) is known for her beauty—-Ravenna locks up Snow until she becomes Kristen Stewart. And then she really gets pissed: One day out of the blue, Ravenna’s “mirror”—-really, a T2-like liquid gold dude who talks to her—-tells her that nope, she’s no longer the fairest of them all. The lip-biter is.
Ravenna sends her weird brother (Sam Spruell) to kill Snow but she escapes, jumping into a roaring river and conveniently finding a white stallion on the shore, which takes her to the Dark Forest. Things are creepy in there until they’re not. (I suppose that’s the power of her beauty.) Then Ravenna tries Round 2, dispatching a drunken widower (Chris Hemsworth) after Snow. Thus the Huntsman hunts her, until he stops. (Again: beauty, etc.)
As Snow and the Huntsman head back to the castle to get rid of Ravenna, the film introduces a bunch of other characters (including the dwarves, played by top-rate actors including Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, and Bob Hoskins) but develops none of them. And that goes for Snow’s love interests, too: Thor may as well be played by a nobody here, with Hemsworth’s charisma tamped down under grimey hair and clothes and the character depth of Snow’s translucent skin. She’s one-note, too—-Stewart, for all the flak she gets, is better than this, a role that calls for her to look frightened, shocked, angered, repeat. Yeah, it’s cool when the character dons chainmail, rides a galloping horse, and storms up the castle’s stairs to kill her queen. But it’s too little, too late; the snail’s pace has already lulled you into indifference.
There’s also Snow’s assumed Prince Charming, a childhood friend named William (Sam Claflin) who’s also given nothing to do. (The film offers not so much a Team Huntsman vs. Team William as a Team Who Cares.) It’s Theron’s show, and though she looks gorgeous commanding it (Colleen Atwood’s costumes are truly spectacular), her performance is over-the-top to the point of absurdity. (Though it’s great when Ravenna sucks the youth and beauty out of a maiden’s face.) The film is ultimately little more than pretty people and special effects—-if you want an engaging story, too, go see The Avengers.