Snow White and the Huntsman

This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Chris Hemsworth, left, and Kristen Stewart in a scene from "Snow White and the Huntsman".

Universal Pictures, Alex Bailey

Following the poorly received “Mirror Mirror” earlier this year, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is precisely the kick in the pants the classic fairy tale needed.

In fact, it is easily one of the most entertaining fantasy films in recent memory. Director Rupert Sanders creates a dark, mystical world that is uniquely his own, while still tipping a hat to the many iconic elements that have made Snow White such a beloved story.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” follows the nefarious queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who yearns for power and eternal youth. When she learns her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is indeed “the fairest of them all,” she enlists a destitute huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to help kill the future ruler. All does not go as planned, and Snow embarks on a grueling quest to bring peace to the kingdom and discover her own strength.

Audiences will be happy to find that Stewart has learned a few new facial expressions since her “Twilight” saga days. While she still does appear wooden and uncomfortable interacting with her fellow actors onscreen, Stewart gives glimpses of real potential throughout the film. She becomes a force to be reckoned with in the film’s final act and allows Snow to come into her own as the fearless warrior she was meant to be.

Stewart has been wise in choosing varied projects in her post-“Twilight” career. A high-profile role in this year’s “On the Road” will no doubt stretch her dramatic chops more so than her work here. After all, audiences do not come to action films for the performances, which is precisely what makes Theron’s turn as the evil queen such a treat. Her Ravenna is at times malevolent and terrifying, while frazzled and vulnerable at others. When you watch her eyes fill with tears as she gazes into her magic mirror, you realize Theron has not crafted a monster, but a sincerely damaged soul. Her performance in “Snow White” further proves she is one of the greatest actresses currently working in Hollywood. And no offense to Stewart, but any actress that is asked to look “fairer” than Theron should really tell the audience to suspend their disbelief for a couple hours.

Hemsworth makes for an appealing, compelling huntsman that provides oft-needed comic relief alongside the sundry band of dwarves he and Snow encounter.

The magnificent camerawork exceptionally captures the epic scope of the film, from the breathtaking English moors to the remarkable natural caverns that seem to be taken right from the pages of a storybook. Cinematographer Greig Fraser delicately constructs frames that echo the art house vibe of last year’s “The Tree of Life” with unfocused, mystical views of the world.

The Dark Forest sequences, in particular, were treacherous and claustrophobic, but an absolute visual feast for the eyes. Whether it was fairies, woodland creatures or unusual vegetation, everything possessed earthy, natural qualities that were grounded in reality with just the right amount of whimsy.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” is a breath of fresh air in a summer landscape brimming with superheroes. It offers an abundance of thrills, suspense and action without ever sacrificing story. Just as the audience begins to get cozy with Snow and her crew, a sudden twist or thrill rounds the corner and keeps everybody on their toes.

Factor in “The Hunger Games” and the upcoming “Brave,” and 2012 looks to be quite the year for strong ladies. Your move, Spiderman.

“Snow White & The Huntsman”

The Universal Pictures release is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality. Running time: 125 minutes.

Grade: A-

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