It was certainly an intriguing enough idea, even a bold one, turning the Evil Queen in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN in the tragic hero of the piece. It smacks of Miltons re-interpretation of Lucifer in Paradise Lost. Alas, a smack is as far as it goes here. Director Rupert Sanders is no Milton, and for all the excellent work Charlize Theron brings to the role, it is far from enough to save this lumbering mess from devolving into a bog even more insidious than the one that claims the title characters dashing white horse early on.
Not that there isnt a commendable amount of imaginative CGI work to be found, what with a Dark Forest full of spindly trees with prehensile branches and of fungi spitting clouds of spores, and the Sanctuary Forest full of mushrooms with a googly eye each rolling around with wild abandon as butterflies congregate themselves into creative shapes. The problem here is a script that drones on and on with dialogue as clunky as rusty armor, and direction that, despite camera work that swoops, pans, and indulges itself in endless artsy hand-held shots, is curiously lifeless. In an attempt to create a new mythos out of several folk traditions, it conjures up none and with such a ringing sense of ennui that not even Theron, arresting though she is subsuming her characters rage into a cold and lethal rage against the injustices shes endured, can breathe any life into it.
It doesnt help that Snow White is Kristen Stewart, an actress who seems to have just the one expression at her command and it is one of pained peevishness. Even when shes smiling, shes peeved. Hers is an aura of self-absorption that transcends the sumptuous sets and finds its truest expression in the inertia of the action sequences. The rousing speech to her troops as they set out to win back her kingdom has less to do with Henry V and his St. Swithins Day speech than with a yappy little Chihuahua fending off a rival for its supper dish. That Chris Hemsworth, as the titular Hunstman sent to capture her when she escapes her evil stepmother’s clutches, has as his first instinct to abandon her in the ci-mentioned bog is perfectly easy to understand. That its the blind dwarf (Bob Hoskins CGI-ed down to size along with the other dwarves) that most ardently defends her is also easy to understand.
Attempts to catapult this rambling and ramshackle work into the realm of the mythic and archetypal fail miserably, as the tedium and pretension take hold within the first hour and never leave. By the time Theron is flailing about on a flagstone floor like a gilded and beached carp, the point of no return has been decisively reached and theres nothing left to hope for except a quick end to it all. Alas, that is yet another disappointment.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is an unrepentantly grimy version of the fairy tale that had within it a glimmer of promise. When Theron raises a dripping birds heart that shes newly liberated from the bird itself to her lips with a supreme indifference, as though she were sipping tea, reveals a worthy villainess of tangible evil. That its wasted in this film is also a tangible evil.