Saturday, 14 May 2016

Movie Review: Snow White And The Huntsman (2012)



It’s catch-up time again as I take a look at the predecessor to an upcoming film… or an already-released film that I didn’t get to because I was too busy spending a month brown-nosing an entire industry. This time, it’s in preparation for The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a film that already looks incredibly uninteresting even without having seen the first film. So, let’s go back to 2012: Chris Hemsworth is riding high on that Marvel wave, Kristen Stewart is trying to break away from the series that would be tied to her forever, Charlize Theron was less than a month away from either disappointing or surprising audiences with Prometheus, and I was having constant mental breakdowns in the face of my final exams for school; it was a tough time for everyone. Oh, and the world apparently ended or something, I don’t know; I think a guy on the radio mentioned it once. This was also released in close proximity to another Snow White adaptation (or re-imagining or whatever buzz word the studios wanted to use) direct by Tarsem; you know, the guy who made this waste of a film. And yes, I will get to Mirror Mirror eventually, but in the meantime, we have today’s subject to contend with. This is Snow White And The Huntsman.


The plot: Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) rules over her kingdom with an iron fist, keeping the only threat to her regency, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) the daughter of the previous king, locked up in the dungeon. When Snow White breaks out of her imprisonment, Ravenna enlists the help of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to bring her back in exchange for a personal favour. However, once he finds Snow White, it seems that he may not be so willing to obey the Queen’s wishes anymore.

The cast, honestly, are a lot better than the characters they’re given and only a handful of them actually make any use out of them. Stewart is honestly not bad here, although she’s a far cry from how good she would eventually become, and manages some good quiet moments like when she’s praying in her cell. As a leader and a character of urgency within the plot, however, she has all the charisma of Not-Leonidas from 300: Rise Of An Empire. Hemsworth is your standard drunkard muscle-for-hire, a trope I am quickly growing weary of, and while his rather misogynistic viewpoints near the start are a bit unsavoury, his acting manages with it, delivering on probably the only solid dramatic point of the film when he talks to Snow White mid-apple coma. Theron is good in two separate ways with how she toys with the character portrayal here: On one hand, some of the more desperate moments are quite strong; on the other, she goes into full “Tina! Bring me the axe!” mode whenever she called on to be shoutier. And then there’s Sam Spruell as Ravenna’s sister, who is a lot like Theron only with all the pathos stripped out. This means he chews up scenery worse than a woodlice infestation, complete with lecherous undertones that bring up certain… questions about his and his sister’s relationship. Oh, and this film needed more Sam Claflin. Like, seriously.

Wow, this film might have some of the worst tonal issues I’ve seen in a while. It’s like a guy who wants to go on a diet, but can’t stop drinking Coke multiple times a day; the methods aren’t helping the cause. From the heavy medieval fantasy style in the costuming and set design to the muted colours to the scenes of actual bloodshed, it’s clear that this wanted to be somewhat of a darker-tinged approach to the classic fairy tale. Admirable idea, except these people clearly didn’t have the right ideas when translating the story. In a more serious take on the story, meant for older audiences, things like the emphasis on vanity and purity would have to be replaced. People may rag on 2014’s Maleficent, but at least it had some forethought when it came to how to alter the story for the new perspective. Here, they try and run with the original themes, only push them even further to the point of general confusion and ludicrousness. Take, for instance, the main reason why the Queen wants Snow White dead in this version. It’s still because she’s a threat to her status as “the fairest of them all”, but that’s a bigger problem here because her beauty is tied directly into her powers. The more beautiful she is, and unopposed in that fact, the more power she seems to have. To make this thing that even Jem would have turned down feel even sillier, a village near the fairy sanctuary purposefully cut their own faces and gave up their ‘beauty’ so that the Queen wouldn’t target them.

It seems like the film wants to weave some feminist ideals into the narrative with this one and, honestly, I don’t see a problem with that. After all, Snow White is easily one of the single most passive princesses in the fairy tale canon, second only to Sleeping Beauty; it can use a bit of proactivity to liven things up. What I do see a problem with is how this film’s attempt to illustrate a more lively version of the character is harmed by the fact that all of the characters here are nothing but surface. Snow White is apparently strong and resourceful, and admittedly she does come across as someone who can take care of herself, but she is not the leader of an army or a kingdom. Hell, her so-called ‘inspiration speech’ to the troops after she wakes up might be one of the most abstractly confusing statements I’ve heard outside of a Riff Raff album. “Iron will melt, but iron will writhe inside of itself”? What in the hell are you talking about!? The attempts at a love triangle with her are pitiful here, somehow even worse than in Twilight; say what you will about the events it entailed, but at least Twilight’s romance actually resulted in something. Here, while couplings are teased (and often advised, given how much of a prick the Huntsman is to begin with), we get literally no resolution to any of it. Does she end up with anyone? Who knows, she’s queen now, she don’t need no man. Yeah, that’s not feminism; that’s Girl Power, a far weaker substitute for the real thing.

Not that the other characters fare any better, though. The dwarves, I neglected to mention in my cast rundown because I am sick and tired of fantasy films with a team of dwarf characters in the spotlight where only one or two gets any kind of characterization and depth to them; wasteful doesn’t even begin to describe it, I don’t care how many shit jokes they make. Yeah, along with a particularly weak joke while they’re in the sewers, another reason why they don’t work is that all of them appear to be Grumpy. Actually, it’s more like Homicidey given how we first meet the dwarves in question. And then there’s the Queen and, my God, she reeks of missed opportunities. We’re given a brief glimpse at her past where she undertook a spell that set in the whole “Beauty = Power” thing that I’m sure Unilever endorsed wholeheartedly and that’s pretty much it. She gets told to “avenge us”, whoever the hell “us” is in this equation, and that is something that is never brought up again. There’s hints of bitterness about the kingdom around her, but the reasoning for which is delivered with the kind of writing where it feels like they were setting up for sequels that… okay, fair point on that one, but that doesn’t make this film any more coherent.

All in all,… boring. Go to a dictionary, look up every synonym for the word “boring” and you’ll have my overall opinion on this thing. The acting has a few bright and frenzied spots with Theron and Spruell but is otherwise unremarkable, the action is lame, the effects are mediocre and the writing cuts so many corners as to try and make paper snowflake filmmaking a thing. As if I wasn’t already dreading the follow-up, I now know that it didn’t even have a good starting point to begin with. It’s worse than Taken 2, where at least it was engaging despite its similar issues of wanting to have its cake and eat it too; this was just a general slog to sit through because nothing was compelling about the thing. However, given how this film did at least try to shake the mythos up a bit, it’s still better than Step Up 4: Miami Heat, which just bottomed out in terms of new ideas.

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