In the category of films that have two hot guys crying over Kristen Stewart’s seemingly dead body, Snow White and the Huntsman is by far the best.
(Also, this is the best of the category of films that have Charlize Theron as a cold-hearted woman who was screwed up by a parent with a fetish about immortality.)
I don’t know for sure if this is the best of the category of films that are opportunistically taking advantage of the fact that the legend of Snow White falls in the public domain, but if the trailers for Mirror Mirror are any indication, it’s not much of a contest.
So, funny comparisons aside, did I really like the film? Yes, wholeheartedly. Theron hams it up enjoyably as the evil queen. Hemsworth shows once again that he’s a formidable screen presence as the never-named Huntsman. There’s a surprisingly exciting cast of actors in the roles of the dwarves. And this is the first performance from Kristen Stewart I’ve cared about since Panic Room.
But what makes it good is less about what’s in it, and more about what’s not. The film moves Snow White around the chessboard like a pawn for the first two acts, not trying to make her some kind of feminist poster child for strong women. She’s a child at the mercy of forces beyond her control or her understanding, forces both good and bad. She doesn’t become truly proactive until after waking from her poisoned-apple-induced coma. (The tweak they made to her waking was unexpected and very satisfying.) Yes, she dons armor and climbs atop a charger for the finale attack on the evil queen’s castle, but they go out of their way to show that she’s not a soldier, and can’t particularly fight. That was a welcome choice.
Speaking of that battle, the other thing they didn’t do is have an unreasonably large horde of CGI horse riders attacking an even more unreasonably large horse of CGI defenders. The battle looked entirely real to me, and of a scale that matches the stakes: a single castle that is the center of power of one kingdom.
One thing that I’m very surprised they didn’t do was play up the possible love triangle between Snow, the Huntsman, and Snow’s “Prince Charming”, a guy named William. It was there, of course, but subtle, only showing up in a handful of meaningful glances. They didn’t add any Twilight-style drama to the proceedings. (Maybe they saw Red Riding Hood as a cautionary tale.)
The one thing they kind of pulled all the stops out for was the sequence in “The Sanctuary” where Snow White (in a knowing nod to the 30s Disney version) is shown to have a preternatural bond with nature. There are magical snakes and turtles and mushrooms, and even though I knew it was silly, it really worked for me. They pushed it just far enough for me to experience Snow’s wonder without making me roll my eyes.
I’ve talked about the comparisons of this film to Mirror Mirror and Prometheus and Twilight and Red Riding Hood, but those similarities are all surface. The film that this one really echoes is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. No, not because Stewart’s English accent is as wobbly as Costner’s. There are a lot of parallels.
A headstrong child of privilege spends years in dire circumstances, only to escape to a world where their father is murdered and their inheritance has been taken. They flee into the woods with a not-quite-wanted protector. They throw in their lot with criminals (with hearts of gold) while being pursued by agents of the evil usurper. (At one point, the hero gives one of the bad guys a pretty nasty wound to their face.) As the evil usurper grows increasingly desperate to capture their foe, the hero rallies the common people to attempt an all-or-nothing attack on the castle. The rough folks from the woods infiltrate the castle to help the hero enter and confront the evil usurper. After a difficult fight that it seems the usurper must win, a virginal girl sneaks in a dagger strike to the usurper’s abdomen. We’re happy to see the usurper die, but in their final moments they show some vulnerability, and it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for someone so warped by their magic obsessed mother.
But maybe I’m just imagining the similarities…