*** (out of four)
To those who mock the casting of ever-gloomy Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) as the brothers Grimm’s ultra-pure Snow White: Why shouldn’t she brood? The heroine's spent the better part of her teens locked in an isolated tower, with nothing to do but stare out the window at the crumbling kingdom and wonder if anyone thinks she's still alive.
That imprisonment comes after Snow White’sfather, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), makes poor, lovely Ravenna (Charlize Theron) his queen just one day after meeting her, which would have sent ye olde tabloids ablaze had the fairy tale universe published any magazines. If they did, surely the cover of “The Kingdom's Burliest Bad Boys” issue would have featured the Huntsman (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth). He's the often-intoxicated widower who, after Snow White escapes into the ominous branch-filled Dark Forest, Ravenna hires to track down the princess so the vain queen can inhale her youth like a human bong hit.
Twice as entertaining as the embarrassing, silly “Mirror Mirror,” “Snow White” remembers the value of magic powers and evil forces have to keep the edge on this fantasy world. First-time director Rupert Sanders and his three screenwriters (including, weirdly, both “The Blind Side” writer John Lee Hancock and “Drive” writer Hossein Amini) also temper the weight of a legitimately moody story with some laughs from both the Huntsman and the dwarves. They're played by non-dwarves like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan, which won't win over people who want little-person parts going to little people but will delight fans of these excellent English character actors who convincingly look half their actual size.
Theron, who promoted the movie months ago on “Top Chef” and obviously embraces the macabre, so devours her villainy that a few lines slip toward caricature, and “Snow White” works too hard to hammer home its sleek atmosphere of shattering black soldiers, goopy moving mirrors and milky white baths.
The queen, told at a young age that beauty alone will save her, clearly indulges whatever will positively stylize her appearance, even if she looks like she's been coated in some new form of sexy plaster or non-stick melted marshmallow. Her insecurity contrasts with Snow White’s lack of arrogance and desire to mobilize the people to create a valuable lesson about the enduring power of survival skills, not looks. No longer a virginal sidekick to heroes doing all the work (casting directors seeking merely gorgeous and pale might have hit a home run with Minka Kelly), Snow White becomes a pretty girl who's kind but wounded. She doesn't act like a princess because she's far from comfortable being treated like one.
Hopefully notions of determination and living with purpose sink in for viewers of all ages rather than the disturbingly effective way in which Snow White's childhood pal William (played as a young man by Sam Claflin) lands a job. He becomes archer for the queen's men after firing an arrow into the chest of the man who had held the position. Surviving the already-cutthroat professional world is hard enough without literally feeling like a moving target.
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