The wicked queen Ravenna has seized the kingdom and the very land itself is dying; an eternal early winter (grey, slushy) has fallen across the countryside and everything withers and dies. Only Snow White, imprisoned for a decade in a high castle tower, can save the kingdom. Within her is the very spirit of life, a vague and undefined aura that heals minor ills and attracts faeries and woodland creatures. She is the essence of life and vigor.
Which is why casting Kristen Stewart in Snow White & The Huntsman was such a major mistake. The actress constantly looks like she’s headed to the methadone clinic, all sallow skin and exhausted eyes. She is without energy, a waxen figure standing about with a look that is at best disinterest, at worst complete disassociation. Stewart is at her best when the enchanted apple has put her into a death-like state. It is not hyperbole to say that the casting of Kristen Stewart in the lead role is what sinks Snow White & The Huntsman.
There are other elements that work against the movie, but if the lead actress had been someone vivacious, someone working as hard to entertain as Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and the assembled dwarves, Snow White & The Huntsman might have at least had some pizzazz.
The film enjoys the keen visual sense of director Rupert Sanders, a commercials guy who has a real knack for constructing spectacle. Many sequences are gorgeous and imaginative, they just aren’t dramatically interest. Sanders has no problem telling a story, but the story he’s telling is uninvolving, and constructed of standard stock beats. You sense that Sanders would prefer that the Huntsman (Doug, I think his name is. I don't remember him being called anything in the movie) simply say ‘This is when we have some playful bickering that indicates our growing attraction, Snow White (except again, he wouldn’t say ‘Snow White’ because she and the Huntsman go largely unnamed)’ and then move on to another puffer spore nightmare sequence. And the puffer spore sequence is great! I just didn’t care about it. It was like watching Sanders’ reel.
The first act is a bloated, overserious drag, but the second act has some moments. The dwarves - played by the likes of Ian McShane and Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost - are more Time Bandits than Lord of the Rings (although Jesus is Lord of the Rings all over this movie). They’re kind of lively, and they can be sort of funny. One of them makes a couple of poop jokes that actually work, for instance. But the movie takes so long getting to the dwarves that once they’re introduced it’s time to rush to the finale, which is an attempt to retread Alice in Wonderland (the Burton one). Suddenly Snow White is in armor and leading an army despite the fact that I wouldn't follow her to the emergency exit during a fire.
Hemsworth really gives it his all, as well as some kind of Scottish accent, and I liked him here. He’s just stuck against an impossible leading lady. Charlize Theron has a good go at the evil queen thing, being less over-the-top than I expected, but still deliciously hammy at times. She’s actually the best thing in the film, and the movie even gives her an origin flashback and everything, which led to me liking her more than the morose Snow White.
Watching the love story between Snow White and the Huntsman unfold (spoiler!), I found myself wondering why modern blockbusters can’t build a fresh, bantery romance in two hours when Hollywood used to churn that shit out all the time in the 40s and come in at a compact 85 minutes. At the end of the movie, when Snow White is in her coma, the Huntsman gives this whole speech about how she looks like she’s ready to give him hell again, and you wish that you could see the Tracy and Hepburn version of this where she DID give him hell at some point in the movie, but that never happens in Snow White & The Huntsman. He talks about how she taught him to be a better man, but that also never happens in the movie. Again and again the script acknowledges that a certain stock beat is needed and just inserts it, whether it’s earned or not.
That makes the whole film feel arbitrary, and while I was often enjoying Sanders’ visual stylings and the strong FX (the dwarf work is great, and there's a very cool troll), I was profoundly bored throughout the movie. There’s lots of talent on display in the film (and I think the film will make a good display movie for your home theater one day), but none of it matters when the script is so saggy and the lead so wrong.