What is Charlize Theron doing in this movie—such a fine actress, reduced to shopworn rants and glowers? Or the warmly charismatic Chris Hemsworth (fresh from The Avengers)? And how to explain the presence of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost—all of them, it pains me to report, playing dwarves?
Snow White and the Huntsman is a CGI confection spun around the bones of the Grimm fairy tale. The picture has moments of familiar digital beauty, but many more passages of effects and conceptions borrowed directly from earlier films. An otherworldly white stag strongly recalls Harry Potter's guardian Patronus; the sight of a fellowship of humans and dwarves hiking along a rocky mountain ridge is one of several lifts from the Lord of the Rings films; and, going way back, there's a spooky figure erupting into a flock of black birds that seems derived from Madonna's old Frozen video. Not to mention echoes of Braveheart and various Joan of Arc films, as well as a truly lamentable incursion of neo-Disney bunnies and butterflies and adorable, big-eyed pixies.
What the movie lacks are any surprises: being an expensive inflation of one of the best-known of all kiddie tales, it's basically Much Ado About Snow White.
Kristen Stewart, so good in movies like Adventureland and The Yellow Handkerchief, has too much modern spunk to be entirely credible as the pure-hearted Princess Snow, although she gives it a game try. When Snow's mother dies, her father, the king, takes up with and marries the evil Ravenna (Theron), here an immortal harridan who feeds on the beauty of luckless younger women to maintain her own timeless allure. Informed by her trusty mirror (a sort of big gong, oddly) that Snow has displaced her as the fairest in the land, Ravenna dispatches her hissable brother Finn (Sam Spruell, in a prize-winningly silly platinum hairdo) to find a Huntsman (Hemsworth) to take Snow into the fantastical Dark Forest and kill her. The Huntsman falls in love with the winsome princess, as you'll recall, and he effects her escape from Finn and his pursuing soldiers. After a series of computer-assisted adventures (in one of which Snow faces down a rampaging troll with nothing more than simple sweetie-power), the fleeing duo falls in with seven dwarves (several sporting conical Kid 'n Play hair styles); eventually, with the help of Snow's still-infatuated childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), they all make their way back to Ravenna's castle for an inevitable girl-fight confrontation.
First-time director Rupert Sanders ably whips up all the usual medieval muck and battle-axe clangor and skies full of sailing arrows, but we've seen all of this many, many times before. He also wages an uphill battle against some of the dialogue concocted by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini—lines like "She is life itself!" and "You let her slip through your tiny little fingers!" and (with a near-audible thud) "I should've never got involved."
The movie is nicely mounted, for the most part (there's a Ravenna milk-bath scene that has a creamy elegance) and it might be a treat for some young viewers (it's rated PG-13). There's quite a bit of hearty action (however standard-issue), and a modest complement of frights (none of them classic, unfortunately—although the sight of a four-foot-tall Ian McShane is pretty unsettling). For an older audience, though, there's never a moment in which you wonder where this story—a staple of so many childhoods—is going. By the time the movie passes the two-hour mark, you start to wonder why it's taking so long to get there.