Summer Blockbuster season is upon us once more. Is there a more depressing, soul-destroying period on the movie calendar? It’s that time of year when the Hollywood studios fill our cinemas with big, dumb, colourful, loud, obnoxious product placements, precision-tooled to appeal to the masturbating chimp with ADD lurking within all of us in a desperate effort to lure us away from the sunshine, Wimbledon and the Olympics, tempting us out of the house and into the movie theatres. Films where big robots punch each other. Films where spandex-clad superheroes punch each other. Films based on comic books. Films based on cheesy stage musicals. Films based on board games. Films based on fairground rides. Films based on chick-lit self-help books.
Some day soon, someone, probably Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, will make a $200-million film based on a children’s cereal starring Scarlett Johansson’s arse as Tony the Tiger and edited to within a frame of inducing epilepsy. Sure, every so often a genuinely intelligent artist like Chris Nolan will put out a film that’s actually good but most Summer movies are designed to appeal to the lowest low-brow in the audience, the kind of hooting, braying idiot who likes to be able to check his text messages during the film without missing anything important.
Already this year we’ve had Battleship, a big, dumb, loud alien invasion movie based on a dumb board game featuring R’n’B star Rihanna’s shapely bottom. We’ve had Avengers Assemble, a big, dumb, loud superhero team-up movie where a bunch of spandex-clad, second string Marvel superheroes join forces with Scarlett Johansson’s shapely bottom to save New York. By destroying more of the Big Apple than an Al-Qaeda aeronautical display team on mushrooms. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have made their movie again. You know, the one they make every year that no-one ever wants to see. Sacha Baron Cohen is tediously dicking around in The Dictator and a decade after the last sequel (which no-one wanted then) we have Will Smith obnoxiously gurning his way through MIB3. Still to come, we have Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises, which admittedly both look pretty good, but we’re also going to have to sit through pointless reboots/remakes of Spiderman, Superman and Total Recall. Not to mention Top Cat. And then there’s Rock of Ages, a film for people who think Glee’s too edgy
Which brings us to this Summer’s dueling Snow White movies Mirror Mirror and Snow White And The Huntsman. The first, Mirror Mirror seemed to have everything going for it; a visionary director in Tarsem Singh, an Oscar-winning Wicked Queen in Julia Roberts, a fresh-faced Snow White in Lily (daughter of Phil) Collins, Sean Bean as Ned Stark and Nathan Lane as Nathan Lane. Waitaminute? Nathan Lane? America’s answer to Biggins? Surely that must have set a few alarm bells ringing? While, like all of Singh’s work, it looked ravishing and was undeniably kiddie-friendly, it felt like Tarsem was just cynically going through the motions, treading water. Mirror Mirror was feeble, unfunny, self-consciously ironic, an arch pantomime that was camper than a Widow Twankey contest at Madame JoJo’s with Roberts’ Wicked Queen a shriller variation on her obnoxious 30-something fag hag from My Best Friend’s Wedding. Worst of all, Mirror Mirror was safe. It lacked the bite, the horror, the darkness of the original fairytale. A Grimm tale with no grimness.
Thankfully, the same cannot be said of debutant director Rupert Sanders’s Snow White And The Huntsman which is everything Mirror Mirror failed to be; stripping the tale back to its dark, twisted origins and giving it a decidedly feminist spin. You know the story already: Wicked Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) kills the good King and enslaves the land with the aid of a mirror, a quasi-incestuous brother (Sam Spruell) and some black magic, imprisoning the King’s daughter, Princess Snow White, in the process. Locked away, Snow White grows from girl to young emo chick Kirsten Stewart, escapes Ravenna’s clutches and disappears into the dark woods hoping to find her father’s still loyal allies and raise an army against the Wicked Queen. Knowing Snow White is the only threat to her rule and convinced the girl’s death will grant her eternal beauty, Ravenna sends the world-weary Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to kill her. But, finding he can’t bring himself to kill an innocent girl, the Huntsman becomes Snow White’s protector and together with a motley crew of foul-mouthed, hard-drinking dwarves (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Johnny Harris, Toby Jones, Nick Frost and Brian Gleeson) and Snow White’s childhood sweetheart/handsome prince William (Sam Claflin) they set out to save the land.
Edgy and raw, Sanders has given us a grim, grimy fairytale that isn’t afraid to play it straight. It’s not hip, it’s not knowing, it’s not ironic. It’s not winking at the audience and sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek. It’s a dark, violent slice of fantasy that takes a timeless story and drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. This is a film where people die, and die badly. Husbands are murdered in their marital bed, knights have boiling oil poured over them, villages are put to fire and sword, beautiful young girls are drained of their life force by an almost vampiric Queen. Fantastical, nightmarish imagery haunts every frame but the film is grounded in a real-world sense of reality. This may be a world of trolls, fairies and magic mirrors but it’s also a world where a village of Amazonian widows mutilate their own, and their daughters’, faces to escape the hunger of Theron’s Bathory-esque Queen who’s obsession with being the fairest in the land consumes all who threaten her, using them up and spitting them out.
Admittedly, it’s tough at first to believe that Theron, one of the most luminously beautiful women in the world, is actually worried about the threat posed to her fairness by the washed-out wee girl from Twilight but, hey, it’s a fairytale! The action scenes are fun, Hemsworth’s beefcake badass wields a hatchet like he’s The Last of the Mohicans while the big battle scenes are blood and thunder affairs, vaguely reminiscent of John Boorman’s Excalibur. Stewart’s Snow White is almost a messianic force, a female King Arthur, restoring life to a desolate wasteland as she dons armour and rides into battle, a Goth Joan of Arc.
The performances are great and while Charlize Theron walks off with the movie, Kristin Stewart more than holds her own as Snow White. Spruell is a deliciously creepy, sexually threatening baddie and, despite having to compete against Thor in the hunk stakes, Claflin is a likeably sympathetic love interest. Despite an accent that’s less Sean Connerry and more C.U. Jimmy, Hemsworth’s macho action hero will set girls (and boys) hearts aflutter and, be honest, who doesn't want to see Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Simon Pegg’s fat mate from Spaced as tough, ass-kicking dwarves?
While it's not exactly Angela Carter, Snow White And The Huntsman has heart and brains. It’s a refreshingly, unashamed attempt to make a kitsch-free, gritty, adult fairytale for a modern audience and, so far, is the Summer Blockbuster worth seeing.
Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Lily Cole, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones
2 hours 7 minutes
UK Cinema Release Date:
30th May 2012 (embargoed until 28th May)