The studio can talk girl power all it wants.
But “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a fairy tale turned into a violent action thriller driven by digital effects, is too much about the next battle sequence and not enough about story and character. It feels a lot like every comic-book movie that ever tried to become a summer blockbuster.
It doesn't much matter what gender presides if plot points don't make sense and scenes feel like they're more about special effects than about furthering the story.
The result is a movie with bursts of visual imagination, and flashes of showy acting from Charlize Theron as the evil queen. But it's also leaden with confusingly edited sword battles, an overblown soundtrack filled with noble horns, and a romantic subplot that goes nowhere. Twice.
It also feels about 20 minutes too long.
Theron is Ravenna, a villainess of many magical powers who bluffs her way into the castle, marries and then murders Snow White's widower dad before unleashing her reign of terror on the kingdom. She stays young and beautiful by sucking the life out of pretty maidens.
Don't ask why she locks her one big threat, Snow White, in a tower instead of killing her. Nor why a woman with so many magical powers sends a mortal stranger into the haunted forest to find and kill Snow White after she escapes.
Nor why every movie starring Kristen Stewart, like the “Twilight” franchise, requires two love interests rather than one. In this instance, the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor”) competes with Snow White's childhood playmate, William (Sam Claflin), for her affections. Neither gets a very interesting character to play.
The movie is more fun when it dwells in the land of fairy tales, one in which trolls and little pixie sprites and, of course, dwarves can and do materialize out of nowhere. The festering magic of the dark forest and the imaginative creations of a more lush landscape are pretty cool.
In other words, the movie has a good art director. Ravenna's costumes are something to see as well, made of black feathers and insect wings and other strange materials.
First-time director Rupert Sanders cleverly puts the heads of some pretty terrific character actors — Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones — on dwarf bodies, and they're an entertaining lot, even if there are eight of them instead of seven.
But Stewart is better at projecting angst than leadership and inner strength, and she looks profoundly uncomfortable decked out in armor atop a horse. She makes you think more of “Twilight's” Bella than of Joan of Arc.
Bottom line: This is passable escapist fare with some pretty dazzling eye candy and several gifted actors. You can't help wishing they didn't come off quite as one-dimensional and shallow as most of them do.
But then, once up on a time, this was a fairy tale, never meant to stretch past two hours or dwell in the land of character arcs and three-act plots.
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