At this point it’s pretty much a fact that Charlize Theron can play bad. Whether it be completely transforming her appearance as a serial killer in “Monster,” or in last year’s “Young Adult,” where she gave a multilayered performance as a cruel but pathetic overgrown teenager.
With “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Rupert Sanders’ stylish retelling of the popular fairy tale) Theron plays one of the most famous baddies, Ravenna, the evil Queen, and manages to give her a considerable amount of depth because unlike other adaptations, like the classic Disney version, or even the sugar drenched semi musical kid spectacle, “Mirror Mirror” (which came out earlier this year), Theron actually portrays Ravenna as being in pain.
No matter how the Snow White story is presented, Ravenna has always been deeply in pain and insecure. That’s why she’s so evil after all. Thanks to a magic spell given to her as a child she’s been able to stay young and pretty for a good while now, but even something involving magic still requires work. She has to constantly maintain her beauty by absorbing other young ladies’ beauty. At one point in the film, there are literally five or six corpses of young women, strewn about her throne room, like scotch bottles in an alcoholic’s bedroom.
She has to constantly check in with her magic mirror--which this time appears in the shape of a liquescent golden hooded figure--to make sure she’s still the “fairest one of all.” But here’s one of the interesting things about Ravenna, she wants to be young and pretty, yet she doesn’t seem to like men. In a prolog we see how she makes King Magnus (Snow White’s father) fall in love with her, only to kill him on their wedding night because she says that men use women and then throw them away.
She’s a fascinating, fractured character and I don’t think I’ve seen a more complex depiction before. Theron’s performance is at once quiet and subtle, and then loud and commanding. She steals the scene every time, and if the movie had been even more focused on her, then it would be near great. But of course, since it’s called “Snow White and the Huntsman,” our story has to be about Snow White and Theron’s performance becomes less and less.
We get Snow White (Kristin Bell) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), along with a charming prince, played by Sam Clafin, and the seven dwarves, played by Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones, among others. And they all do their thing. You know the story, so there’s no use in going over it. But compared to Ravenna’s struggles it feels tired and trivial and turns into one action set piece after another.
Hemsworth, who recently played the hammer wielding, demi god Thor in “The Avengers,” doesn’t venture far away from that bruiting performance, except instead of wielding a hammer he wields an ax. Clafin does what he can, playing a handsome but dull character, the actors who play the dwarves deliver a few hardy laughs, and Stewart, god bless her, is at least slightly more expressive than she has been in previous movies (“Twilight”). But she still gives a dopey, open mouth, exasperated and ultimately unconvincing performance. I know that by the standards of the story Snow is the fairest one of all but with Theron in the picture, she shouldn’t be.
To the movie’s credit there are some splendid visual effects, such as the aforementioned mirror creature, there’s a scene where Snow ingests some kind of hallucinogenic plant, which causes her to have a bad trip in the “dark forest,” and later on, Snow and the others come upon an enchanted forest complete with fairies, baby animals and a white cow-dear creature with gigantic antlers.
More so, as the movie’s tag line promises, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is no fairy tale. Everything is grittier, darker and dirtier, as it should be (even the Disney version was somewhat dark). But all of that doesn’t matter if the characters and storytelling aren’t strong, and with the exception of Theron, everything else is underwhelming.
But oh! How wonderful Theron is. She’s a powerhouse, a force of nature, and she has enough baggage to inspire her own film. However, I’m still not sure if the rest of “Snow White and the Huntsman” is worth sitting through.