Hiring actors/actresses who are already renowned for another major franchise is a risky business. Hiring two is riskier still, and while the presence of Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth may guarantee box office success, critical acclaim is a more elusive beast.
Even with their game faces donned, it is hard to shake the suspicion that the roles were adapted to suit the rep of the two leads, and not vice versa. The Snow White of Disney fame becomes a morose beauty, while the Huntsman gets the chance to flex his hammer – I mean axe arm – on many an occasion. Try as they might, the two can’t quite break free from their respective franchise trappings – it feels like they’re playing the roles rather than actually inhabiting them, and as a result are hard to connect with.
Conversely, Charlize Theron, who doesn’t come associated with the baggage of a major franchise, is the standout performer. Playing the evil queen of fairy tale as a seductive and deadly succubus, she avoids pantomime territory by injecting her character with some vestige of humanity – albeit a twisted and deranged form, motivated by extreme greed and narcissism.
Jostling for screen time around the three leads, Sams Claflin and Spruell leave their mark as Snow White’s childhood friend William and the Queen’s twisted brother Finn, while the dwarves recover from the ignominy of being dislodged from the title by providing a much-needed injection of frivolity among the gloom, with Ray Winstone and Ian McShane in particular getting some good lines.
With so much going on, however, it’s hard to provide a nailed-on analysis of the overall tone. It seems intent on appealing to every demographic, and while this allows for some impressive CGI and considered juxtaposition of light against dark, it doesn’t really allow for a cohesive whole, as becomes evident by the rushed finish that provides disappointingly little payoff.
In its defence, it avoids becoming yet another Twilight clone. If a sequel happens, it will be interesting to see what direction it takes.