In stark contrast to recent Snow White romp Mirror Mirror, this re-imagining of the fairy-tale is dark as thunderclouds, providing an ideal backdrop for Twilight star Kristen Stewart. She leads the charge against her evil stepmother, but Charlize Theron still outshines her in that role with a multifaceted performance. For her, the mirror has many faces.
When the Queen kills Snow White's father, the king, there's a sense of something more than pure evil driving her. There are flashbacks to a painful childhood, but these aren't necessary - and in fact, they're a touch crass - because it's already evident. She is suspicious of men who are so easily dazzled by her beauty, still she preserves it with magic because she feels it is her only power.
Snow White is forced to dig deeper for a sense of empowerment. She is literally face down in the mud, lost in the enchanted woods when she's discovered by the Huntsman - a grieving widower played with a boggling variety of accents by Chris Hemsworth. Sadly, his doltishness doesn't work as well for him here as it did in the comically styled Thor and Avengers.
It's a bad decision compounded by the fact that there is no sexual tension between Stewart and Hemsworth. As the Prince of a nearby kingdom, Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is supposed to be the third corner of a love triangle, but his presence barely registers at all. As a result, the story feels disjointed, as if scenes have been cut in a rush to get to the action.
The dwarves who help Snow White along the way (including likeably gruff turns by Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Toby Jones) help to raise spirits, but humour is used sparingly. When it comes to spectacle, though, British director Rupert Sanders delivers in spades.
This, his first feature film (graduating from commercials) is chockfull of gorgeous, ethereal imagery and spellbinding effects - including the eerie sight of Theron withering with age and reverting to youth in a matter of seconds. Every shot is beautifully composed and Sanders is able to create an atmosphere that draws you into a scene. It's just that, once inside, there are no great reveals.
It may have been asking too much of the director to extrapolate a mythology of true depth and meaning from a simple children's fairytale. Only Theron comes close with her tragic portrayal of the Queen. Despite the gloomy pall that hangs so seductively over everything, this is pure light entertainment, which only goes to show that you shouldn't judge by appearances.