In the 2012 Snow White theatrical-reboot cage match, I declare Show White and the Huntsman the winner. Largely that’s because I plan to avoid Mirror, Mirror for the rest of my life, based on the unfunny trailers and my track record for refusing to watch every Julia Roberts film since Ocean’s Eleven. I confess the cage match was fixed. I’m fine with unbalancing the scales intentionally and will lose no sleep over it.
I can’t say I liked Show White and the Huntsman as a whole, but I wouldn’t give it an F-minus, as have other Internet participants who reject it on the principle of starring Kristen Stewart. I’m not a Twilight fan, but my apathy for the series isn’t borne of defensive rage about how Real Vampires should be portrayed, nor do I condemn any of the actors for their mere participation. A quick IMDB check confirms the last two Stewart films I saw were Jumper (my dislike of which can be pinned on another cast member, not her) and Zathura (in which her big-sister character was supposed to be irritating). That’s not nearly enough grounds for me to jump on the anti-Bella bandwagon.
That said: to be honest, Show White and the Huntsman doesn’t provide her with much in the way of superstar material to prove herself. Her dialogue in the first half of the film is minimal. When she speaks in the second half, it’s largely either shouting while on the run or grunting while taking damage. She does have two (2) opportunities for quiet, smiling moments, as well as one troop-rallying speech which seemed to go over well. That’s a start, but she’s largely overprotected or out-bellowed by all the other characters. That’s not too prominent a place for a main character to act very main. Perhaps it wouldn’t help to mention a few scenes where Snow is so beloved by Mother Nature and so essential to the very fabric of her kingdom that she’s actually followed and celebrated by assorted happy woodland creatures. One can only imagine the Internet’s own Kristen Stewart Revenge Squad going into convulsions at the very sight.
Her general character arc also doesn’t help. Her entrance in the film is after years of dungeon imprisonment, which should have left her a drained, emaciated mess. She escapes from Point A Prison with some pluck and a single-minded goal to reach Castle Point B, because then and only upon the arrival of their exiled figurehead will the people of the kingdom unite, grow a collective spine, and stage a coup against their all-powerful oppressor. Fortunately for Ms. White, days of fleeing, watching others die because of her, fleeing some more, and being saved by the grace of others all somehow provide her with enough exercise and fresh air to overcome her years of imprisonment, reach a semblance of physical competence, and assume the role of Eowyn for the film’s climactic, chaotic assault on Poor Man’s Minas Tirith.
As the Evil Queen who is her opponent, longtime captor, and Evil Stepmother, Charlize Theron nearly makes her own head explode as she goes over the top, pauses for a tea break while her servants construct a new top thousands of feet above the previous top, then sails over that top with feet to spare. She’s allowed a few moments of vulnerability as it’s suggested that she was cursed by her mother with beauty to use as a dangerous weapon against a misogynist world (so it’s Man’s fault she has to be beautiful! And, um, not her wicked mother’s…), but moments later she returns to her previous state of apoplectic fury. I’m willing to bet her on-set line-shouting was so vehement, it made the film crew cry. Those scenes alone are worth seeing if your constitution isn’t too delicate.
As Snow’s trusty sidekick, Chris Hemsworth is allowed to inflict more damage and use pointier weapons than in his previous films. Like Snow, he also has one good speech-ifying scene, in which he laments the needless passing of so many lives that have touched his. The rest of his scenes alternate between barking at Snow and pounding on her assailants. We don’t even know he’s approaching his own private Inigo Montoya moment until seconds before it’s upon us. It’s over in a heartbeat, with nary a whit of closure, an ounce of emotional satisfaction, or even a great kiss-off line.
In case those three stars aren’t enough to hold out attention, there are dwarves. Singing the complete opposite of “Hi-Ho” are a troupe of known quantities as varied as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost. Dwarven CG technology has come a long way since the days of Gimli and company, but here it’s more of an eyebrow-raiser than a triumph of art. I just couldn’t get past them. I found myself staring at them in every scene as if they were hideously deformed. The jocular Frost very nearly fit, but I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the image of scary, glowering Ian McShane trapped and required to act melancholy while his re-proportioned head is attached to the body of Billy Barty.
I was so distracted, I hardly paid attention to the unnecessary love triangle that remained buried, bordering on subtextual, throughout the film’s second half, with neither closure nor even much resulting conflict. I also ignored several scenes of men in armor swinging their weapons through demons made of glass shards. Ground wars between anonymous participants don’t thrill me like they used to, even if magical CG is involved. Yes, it’s pretty. How encouraging it must be to aim for the low bar of “pretty”, all the better to celebrate when it’s quickly met.
It goes without saying that the sum of SWatH’s parts don’t hold a candle to the vastly different Once Upon a Time, though I do think Kristen Stewart could take li’l Mary Margaret in a fair fight, either in Storybrooke or in her original homeland. And yet, despite the flaws it evinces as it attempts to dazzle with medieval warfare and to rely upon the power of its stars without arming them sufficiently, I’m convinced it’s still better than Mirror, Mirror, sight unseen.
(I’d love to step out further and compare all of them unfavorably to Bill Willingham’s Fables, but I’m at least five volumes behind the present, having dramatically paused months ago at volume thirteen, The Great Fables Crossover. Eventually I’ll attempt to move forward on that.)