A voice over, an evil warden, an innocent prisoner, a daring escape through a sewer. No, it's not "The Shawshank Redemption." "It's Snow White and the Huntsman," the new take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, made famous by Disney's animated 1937 classic, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
While this movie's Snow White, in a sense, mirrors the Disney version - she is pure of heart - that's where the comparison ends and the gritty, violent fun begins.
Our story begins with that voice over. We meet Snow White's mother and hear why she named her child Snow White. We see Show White as a young girl, we see the Queen die and the King go to battle with and defeat a dark army, then rescue its lone prisoner - an otherworldly, stunning woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) with whom the King instantly falls in love. Bad move - she kills him and, with the help of her brother Finn (Sam Spruell), Ravenna sacks the kingdom and locks the princess in a tower to rot.
Instead, the princess grows up to be a very lovely, albeit filthy, Kristen Stewart. Her Snow White is grungy. Her clothing is tattered, her fingernails dirty, her eyes are sensitive to light. In other words, how you would expect somebody locked in tower for at least a decade, without really seeing the light of day, would be.
Then comes the mirror, though it's more like a very large gold shield. When evil Queen Ravenna addresses it the metal streams off of it, slowly moving towards Ravenna as it morphs into the shape of a man. When the mirror tells Ravenna that Snow White is the only threat to her goal to top the Maxim Hot 100 - or be the fairest of them all - Ravenna doesn't take it well, vowing to rip out Snow White's heart, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-style.
Plans are thwarted when Snow White escapes into the dark forest. That's when the Huntsman comes in, played by Chris Hemsworth, who's far more famous now than when he was cast for this movie, thanks to his role as Thor in "The Avengers." Here, he's a raging alcoholic drinking to forget the death of his wife, who the Queen promises to bring back from the dead if the Huntsman braves the dark forest and captures Snow White.
It doesn't take long for the Huntsman to find Snow White but he soon becomes her ally, turning on the Queen with the help of the seven dwarves, brilliantly played by the likes of Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost. The rest of the story is not as predictable as you might think.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a wake-up call to any critic who's taken issue with Kristen Stewart's work in the "Twilight" franchise, a series of movies that clearly constrain her acting ability and makes her seem as boring as her character, Bella Swan. (Yes, "Twilight" fans, Bella is boring, though there's always hope for "Breaking Dawn, Part 2.") Stewart is exceptional as Snow White, proving she really is one of Hollywood's best young actresses. She thrives in the quiet moments, shines in the action sequences, and is exceptional when Snow White tries to convince herself she's worthy of her destiny.
Hemsworth, in a considerably less showy role than that of Thor, Norse god of thunder, is armed with an impressive range and sensitivity that seems instinctual. In other words, the guy's a natural.
As for Theron? Wow! I'm not really sure I've ever seen an actress be so evil and yet so vulnerable at the same time. We should hate Ravenna because, well, she sucks, but she's endowed with a back story and depth most arch villains in these types of movies aren't given. In Theron's hands, the Academy Award winner shows her pedigree. Come this Oscar season, I can see her again being part of the conversation.
Snow White and the Huntsman does drag in a few places. Nitpicking aside, though, it's a violent yet gorgeous tale that thoroughly satisfies.
Four out of five stars.