This film is a mess. It’s very pretty to look at, with lots of fantastic landscapes as well as pretty people. (I personally could look at both Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth all day long and not be bored.) But it doesn’t know where it’s going or what it is trying to say. So it wanders around from place to place. And each place it gets to, you think “oh, okay, now I know what’s going on.” But within a few minutes the movie gives up on that slant and wanders off somewhere else.
It more or less follows the basic “Snow White”‘ story for most of the movie. But after Snow White eats the poisoned apple and dies and gets brought back by a kiss, she suddenly turns into Henry V. She gives a stirring eve-of-battle speech to the troops and leads an attack on the evil queen’s castle, using the amazing swordfighting skills she apparently downloaded from the Matrix while she was in a coma. Or maybe she taught them to herself while locked in a dungeon all those years, like Fiona in Shrek and Rapunzel in Tangled.
I don’t have a problem with girls teaching themselves how to be warriors on the sly while society thinks they’re safely constrained. Nor do I have a problem with turning a passive heroine into a real one. Where this movie fell down for the final, fatal time for me was the character of the evil queen.
Myths about heroes often have an evil woman/witch/female monster that needs to be destroyed: the Wendol mother in Beowulf, the Medusa that Perseus defeats, Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, etc. Folk and fairy tales are full of evil stepmothers who are the villains in many a Disney tale. But if you take a closer look at the stories women write, the devouring female doesn’t show up. When a heroine goes out on her own and meets up with the witch in the forest, she ends up learning from her and leaving with gifts. The evil queen is a male problem.
The villain that most heroines have to battle is society’s idea of what a woman can be. Yes, there are often women who perpetuate that for other women, like the Mean Girls in high school. But they are not the cause of the problem, and defeating them doesn’t fix anything.
The film comes close to recognizing this when it shows us that the reason the queen went bad in the first place is because society taught her that she only had value as long as she was young and beautiful; that men would only use her and then toss her aside. She got angry about this, as women do, and then she set out to make sure it would never happen again. And yes, she got kinda twisted and went about it the wrong way and caused a lot of trouble. Women do, when they’re not allowed to be themselves.
So the climax of the film didn’t work for me. Ninja Snow White kills the queen and becomes queen herself. But she doesn’t look happy about it. That may have been because Kristen Stewart has only one expression, but I had to wonder if, as the character, she was thinking “yeah, it’s good now, but I’m still young & pretty. What happens when I’m not?” The film has no answer.