Warning: spoilers contained herein. If you want to know whether you should go see this: you should. It is fantastic. After watching, come back here, and join me in the discussion.
What I loved about this movie, in list format:
- The plot/adaptation. Okay, I’m going to level with you. I’m a sucker for fairy-tale/myth reinventions. I even wrote and produced a few of my own when I was 16/17 with a youth theater company my sister and I founded (including Robin Hood and King Arthur.) But I’m so often disappointed by them in the movies: they either adhere too closely to the original plot, which we all know, or they throw together so many elements from so many different fairy tales that they become these rambling behemoths without any cohesive architecture to the story. SWATH avoided both of these: there was plenty there from the original fairy-tales it borrowed from, but plenty was new, and it all hung together extremely well.
- Two plot-elements that I thought were handled particularly well were the romance plotline and the evil witch plotline. The romance plotline was done extraordinarily well: indeed, with hardly any screentime the movie managed to show a bit of a love triangle with a bit of a resolution without it overpowering the story. Too often, movies with heroines, particularly fairy-tale adaptations, spend all their time on love stories, whose resolution any audience familiar with the archetype will be expecting. So the fact that SWATH actually turns some of those archetypes on their heads as well as not particularly dwelling on them is impressive and made for a well-timed storyline.
- As far as turning archetypes on their head, SWATH approached the romance from a much more nuanced perspective than most fairy-tales or fairy-tale adaptations: the childhood sweetheart is not the true love, rather, the fact that they still have that childhood relationship is problematized, and it is a more experienced and mature man (the huntsman) who is hinted at being her true love. However, that’s never actually resolved in the film, which is brilliant, since most of these movies would have given in in that last scene and shown them kissing or whatever. SWATH is happy to not make romance the most important aspect of their heroine’s story, which is a really smart move, for the story, but surprising from a major Hollywood film.
- I also mentioned that I liked the Evil Witch’s story, by which I mean the backstory (I mean, I like the rest too, obviously). Look, though: I’m not saying that she’s an entirely sympathetic character, but I think it was really good of the film creators to give us insight into why she is who she is, and let’s be honest, it’s about time one of these fairy-tale remakes deals with the inherently patriarchal nature of the universe they exist in, including the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence against women.
- On that note, I think the witch’s brother is played extraordinarily well, because even through his creepiest scenes, we don’t fully see how truly twisted and evil he is until his death scene.
- It’s taken me six items, but this should probably be number 1: Kristen Stewart is amazing in this movie. She does a fantastic job throughout of portraying a woman who hasn’t left a tower in years, who finds the world outside somewhat terrifying and hard to understand, but who nonetheless has enormous depths of character and courage. Seriously, I hate Twilight as much as anyone, but Kristen Stewart is actually a phenomenal actress.
- My only pet peeve is the heaving-bosom thing, but that’s common enough to these kinds of character portrayals that I can’t really blame her for it.
- Charlize Theron was also outstanding! Damn, performing that character in a way that is both utterly sympathetic and profoundly disturbing and terrifying takes serious acting chops. The final scene is especially compelling, but the scenes with her brother, and the scene right after she poisons Snow White with the apple are just so perfectly nuanced that you hate and pity her so much all at the same time. Superb.
Now, what I didn’t like so much.
- The troll. I’m sorry, the CGI here was super-cheesy, and I just don’t understand why, in every movie with a troll, some character has to yell “TROOOOLLLLLL.” Like, dude, we get it.
- The slightly parted lips and heaving bosom thing I already mentioned. It’s just a pet peeve of mine, nothing objectively wrong with it.
- The “Don’t flatter yourself” line when the Huntsman cuts off her dress. Rape apologia is not appreciated in my fairy-tale remake movies. But this one does redeem itself somewhat by actually addressing some of the patriarchal structures which created the whole terrible situation in the first place.
- The monsters-made-from-glass in the last fight scene. Why on earth would you introduce distractions from the incredible scene between Theron and Stewart? Why? I know it’s almost an archetype of this kind of film now, that the henches of the main character and the Big Bad engage in their own battle while the two main characters duke it out, but seriously, we didn’t need that.
- I’m a little tired of the Comic Relief Dwarf. I can’t really blame them, again, part of the archetype. But still.
- Not really much else. It was a damn fine movie.