REVIEW: Kristen Stewart Makes a Feisty But Boring Princess in Snow White and the Huntsman

Movieline Score: 6
Snow White and the Huntsman

Why can’t heroines just be heroines anymore, instead of micromanaged personalities who may as well have the words “Role Model” tattooed across their foreheads? That’s the fate suffered by poor Kristen Stewart as the warrior princess athlete orphan Christ figure Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman. She’s not just Joan of Arc — she’s Joan of Archetypes.

Moviegoers who love Kristen Stewart — and they include a distinctive subgroup who avoid the Twilight pictures as a vampire eschews sunlight — have long been waiting for Snow White and the Huntsman, hoping to see this enormously appealing actress in a role that is, at last, worthy of her. I think Stewart has held her ground admirably enough in the Twilight pictures, particularly the profoundly crazy-ass Breaking Dawn – Part I, which gives her character something to do other than swan about moodily. (They don’t call her Bella Swan for nothing.) She also made a fine and fierce Joan Jett in Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways. But Snow White and the Huntsman, the debut feature of Rupert Sanders, does her no favors. This Snow White is clearly designed to be a young woman of agency, not a girly-girl victim who waits around for a prince to save her. The problem is that she’s so admirable, so aggressively self-reliant, so beloved and respected by little forest animals as well as simple-minded villagers, that she barely has time to be a woman. Stewart is laced so tightly into her character that she can hardly breathe, let alone give a performance. Luckily, Charlize Theron — as the really, really wicked Queen Ravenna — is on hand to give us something to watch, and boy, does she.

This is, of course, a “dark” version of the fairy tale, not a cheerful one, and as written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, it at least half-delivers on that score. The picture opens with a quick backstory, revealing how the young and ravishing Ravenna tricked Snow’s father, a poor widowed king, into marrying her before murdering him on their marital bed. Along with her hapless twit of a brother, Finn (Sam Spruell) — the two have a quasi-incestuous, master-and-servant relationship — she takes over the kingdom, turning it into a place of darkness and death, as was her plan all along. She also locks away the orphaned Snow, who starts out as a little girl before morphing into the comely but feisty K Stew.

Snow eventually manages to escape into the forest, which, under Ravenna’s rule, has become a wasteland in which tangled branches transform into writhing, hissing serpents and flowers that appear to be made of mussel shells glisten with venomous portent. Snow needs help, but just a little. And when a sturdy local huntsman shows up — he’s played by Chris Hemsworth, of Thor and The Avengers — the two reluctantly join forces, though Snow has not forgotten her first love, a duke’s son named William (Sam Claflin), even though we can all see how boring, if good-looking, he is.

Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t as willfully hammy as that other recent entry in the Brothers Grimm source-material parade, Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror, and it’s not as enjoyable either, though admittedly it’s a completely different creature. Production designer Dominic Watkins sure knocked himself out here: One of the movie's most fantastic backdrops is a fairy refuge inhabited by slippery, naked little creatures with pointed ears and oversized peepers; their homeland is also populated by stands of mushrooms, each sporting a single, blinking eye, and moss-covered turtles that provide handy landing pads for clouds of butterflies. Most magnificently, this forest is also home to a dignified-looking white hart with a set of antlers that spread as wide and as tall as the branches of an oak. (They resemble, in the good way, an over-the-top showgirl headdress.)

The hart bows in respect to Snow, because it’s clear she has the power of healing, of leadership, of having fabulous hair even though she’s been fighting her way through an ugly forest for days on end. She’s also a great warrior, as we see during the picture's lavish but oddly unexciting climactic battle sequence. She doesn’t even need a cadre of great English character actors disguised as dwarves to save her, but they show up anyway. (The gang includes Eddie Marsan, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost and Toby Jones, all shot to appear height-challenged.) Stewart moves through the picture looking noble and sadly dull, unwittingly setting the stage for the evil queen to steal her show.

Theron is marvelous here, playing Ravenna as a cooler-than-cool customer who’ll do anything — include draining the blood from innocent young beauties — to stay young-looking. She works wonders with dum-dum dialogue along the lines of “My beauty…fades,” and struts around boldly, doing justice to Colleen Atwood’s luxurious glittering-metallic costumes. (At least one of these appears to be an obvious nod to the late British designer Alexander McQueen, featuring a collar of shiny black plumes that fan around the queen's face like an ornithological lion’s mane.)

Snow White and the Huntsman looks great. And yet even there, it’s often guilty of trying too hard. The picture was shot by Greig Fraser (the DP behind great-looking pictures like Bright Star and Let Me In), and many of its images are arresting. But it also features a number of “what for?” visuals that have no real reason to exist other than that they look cool. At one point Ravenna submerges herself in a creamy-white milk bath (cool!) and emerges as a figurine coated in porcelain (wha…?). Clearly, this is one of her special magic beauty treatments, but it doesn’t make sense even in a fantastical way. And it’s emblematic of all the ways in which Snow White and the Huntsman works overtime to wow us, to make us shiver, to remind us that, hey, girls can be strong too! This Snow White is no wussy princess. But her tomboy nobility is no match for the imperious Ravenna and her succession of liquid-stainless-steel gowns and spiky medieval-gal-on-the-rag headgear. Don’t see Snow White and the Huntsman for its ho-hum empowerment message. See it for the killer clothes.

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  • yourfuture says:

    ok so?

  • Dee says:

    You are forgetting that Snow was locked up in the tower for years and had to go through the pain of losing her parents. the look in her face is not dullness but one of sadness. Snow should not be expected to act like a normal girl because she grew up stunted. Open your eyes and pay more attention to details.
    As far as calling her battle scenes anti-,climactic, Snow is not expected to fight like a man because that would be unrealistic. Your comments are therefore unfoumded and you should retract them, if you're truly an unbiased critic.

  • jojo says:

    I watch the movie, and the movie is epic, I wanna see it again, this movie amazingly beautiful..

  • jills says:

    Saw SWATH for the 2nd time tonight. The movie is visually stunning! Dark but not over the top. Special effects really great especially the fight scenes. The action scenes are epic. Really well directed.

    Very little dialogue for all of the main characters tho. I thought the movie was a little too long and could benefit from more lighter moments. Disney made the fairy tale, this movie has all the dark evil parts. You already know the story, the trick is in the dialogue and telling of the story. Chris Helmsworth and Sam Caflin both have great entrances to the movie. All of the actors gave really good performances considering the dialogue they were given. I did not see Bella in Kristen's performance, as some have stated, but a young woman who was unsure of herself in the beginning who matures and becomes a savior to her people. This movie appeals to both female & males and it will be intersting what storyline they can come up with for a sequel if it happens.

  • Jorbo says:

    Jesus was this movie awful. I shouldn't have expected anything less knowing Kristen Stewart was starring in it.

    • guest says:

      My goodness. Thank you. I was fighting sleep in that movie. The trailer and what I viewed in the theatre lacked relation. I was not impressed. And I don't pay for Kristen Stewart films. Watching that film reminded me why. And Charlize? Wow. Horrible. I was disappointed in her. The saving grace was everyone that was not Charlize or Kristen.

  • Brieftaube says:

    There is one problem to start with: Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron are in two entirely different "beauty"-categories: The one - Charlize - REALLY beautiful, the other - Kristen - not beautiful at all, but just a little pretty when shot in the right way. So this question "Who is more beautiful than Ravenna?" has one clear answer in the film - NOBODY. That is also due to the fact, that Kristen Stewart is a girl or at best a young woman growing up. Charlize Theron already is a real woman. I haven't seen that movie, but I wish for Ravenna to kick all those losers out of her kingdom and keep being gorgeous and evil.

  • Jimmy Mahoney says:

    It's only going to get worse, Universal just announced plans to make "Cap'n Crunch" the movie.

  • Jack Cerf says:

    This is what happens when you repurpose a long established character and try to give her/him a political meaning inconsistent with the basic story line. Same thing happened with Burton's Alice and with Kevin Kostner's attempt to turn Robin Hood from a guy getting away with something into Che Guevara. If the market wants girl power, build your self rescuing warrior princess from the ground up like Hunger Games or Brave instead of getting her tangled up in a rescued princess plot.

  • Anonymous says:

    You guys are REALLY nice for giving it a 6.

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  • catherine says:

    Iam glad to see Iam not the only one who did not appreciate the cheapening of joan of arc via this version of snow white

  • mark says:

    Were you seriously implicating that Kristen Stewart is an "actress", and worthy of a role? She should be working checkout at the grocery store, it'd suit her lack of personality better.

  • Courtny says:

    This could of been an amazing movie if they had cast well hmmmm let's see any one besides Kristen Stewart seriously she lacks depth and is barely believable as a person much less an actress! Charlize had a power role and towed the mark thank the gods or this movie would of tanked. Please Hollywood put Kristen Stewart back where ever you found her sighing, and pretending to be so clumsy and mysterious BARF!

  • Pwn says:

    Movie wud have been good if Snow White was cast better.....Kristen Stewart is laughably awkward.....Theron was amazing though and Hemsworth and the dwarves were pretty good

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