I had maintained middling interest in this while it was out, but never got around to it, and in retrospect... I feel like someone should have told me it was good. I feel like the reviews at the time should have said "Guess what? It's kind of good. And if you're missing an Excalibur-like knights and princesses and castles and fairies kind of thing, you should see it." Because, while it has a few flaws and is a bit too long, it is definitely, totally super-fun.
The first words are "Once upon a time..." and a flashback tells us of a nice queen who had Snow White (SW), and SW playing with her young friend William, who takes one bite of an apple and drops it, in an image we know will recur later. Anyway, the queen dies, and this army comes of soldiers who shatter when struck, and seemingly the prisoner of this army is Charlize Theron as Ravenna. She seduces the King, marries him, then kills him, takes over the kingdom, and William escapes while SW is thrown up into the tower, where she leads a grimy, solitary existence that doesn't preclude her having perfect, gleamingly white teeth. The land around the kingdom dies and oh dear, it's dark times indeed. Dark times, forsooth.
This time the evil queen has a backstory, which is that her village was sacked or whatever (some generic trauma) and her mother told her the only way to survive is through remaining beautiful, and put a spell on her so that she has various magical powers and can remain youthful through doing things like sucking the youth out of virgins and eating bird's hearts with her special bird-heart-eating utensils she wears on her hands. The point is, she's not just evil, she has a bit of a story and we can somewhat sympathize with her. She calls down her magic mirror and he gives her the news that before too long, SW will be more fair than her, but if she rips out SW's heart, she'll be immortal. So she gets her brother, who is her little assistant, to go up and get her. But SW, with the assistance of some helpful birds, escapes and makes a getaway from the castle.
SW trudges through this swamp, finds a white horse, rides the horse til it gets struck, runs into what we will soon know as the dark forest, where the trees reach out for her, and there are these menacing bats, and mussels that open up and ooze black goo, and amidst all this terror... she just settles down to go to sleep! And when we rejoin her later... all those deadly terrors just decided to leave her alone! Now, possibly we're supposed to think that she hallucinated it all because of these popping spores, but I thought that was not at all clear, and the dark forest is throughout referenced as something it's impossible to survive, but if there's no real danger there except for having a really bad trip... I don't get it. Anyway, during this time Ravenna (that's the queen) takes a break from bathing in thick milk to call the Huntsman, who is the only guy known to have survived the dark forest. Except Ravenna's brother's posse, who make it through without too much trouble not long after.
SPOILERS > > >
So the Huntsman (HM) finds her, and for a good while the movie is they go here, have a talk, then the bad guys invade, battle, run. Repeat, repeat. They find a colony of women. Bad guys invade, battle, run. They meet a troll. Bad guys invade, battle, run. Eventually they meet a bunch of Hobbits (bad guys invade, battle, run) and it took me a second to realize that these are the seven dwarves! They're not named Sleepy and Grumpy anymore, though, but you do eventually recognize Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Ray Winstone. Then: the enchanted forest!
This actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the film, because it dared to be a bit cheesy and sentimental, yet it worked. You know in the Disney version where Snow White goes into the forest and all the woodland creatures gather around? This is essentially the version of that scene. She is led by fairies through the forest as more and more woodland creatures gather, and she's followed by the dwarves and HM, until she is brought to a giant white stag, who essentially blesses her, causing the dwarves to gasp that she is the chosen one. It works! But then: Bad guys invade, battle, run. By the way, in here the bad guys are featuring a super-hot bear superstar archer, but sadly he is dispatched before he can bathe shirtless in the brook or whatever.
Meanwhile, William, SW's childhood friend, has found out that she's alive and gone to join the bad guys, undercover, to find her. The queen's brother is killed, causing her to writhe on the floor and get old, and William finds SW and comes onto her side. Then William gives SW an apple that causes her to go into a coma, and wouldn't you know, it was the queen in disguise. She then flies off by becoming a bunch of crows that come back to the castle and turn to a puddle of black slop that the queen then crawls out of. It's super fun, and Charlize Theron gives herself to it totally. Meanwhile, William kisses SW and it doesn't do shit. They take her to William's kingdom and set her up with a coma bed.
So the HM comes up and gives a long speech that I fast-forwarded through, though I suspect it was moving and heartfelt, and finally he plants one on SW and she wakes up. Nice choice, SW! William was such a wuss, anyway. She comes out and, though she had one scene of wondering how she could inspire an army, she's just a girl, etc., she now starts to make a speech to rouse everyone, including the line "I would rather die than live another day of this death!" Ummm, okay. I'm sure that... well, it makes emotional sense, anyway. Anyway, poof! She has an army, and a new, no-nonsense braided hairstyle, and they ride out along the beach, which is fun in a "days of old when knights were bold" kind of way.
Let's not concentrate on how it took days of struggle through treacherous terrain to get to William's kingdom, but only two hours to get back. They endure fireballs from catapults, and the dwarves sneak in (no problem getting up through that cliffside hole a hundred feet above the roiling ocean, either) and open the gate after some marginal struggle. Battle, battle, and eventually it's womano-a-womano with SW and the queen, who is all about how she can't be defeated until, boing! SW defeats her. She writhes in the corner and gets old. Then flowers bloom and the queendom turns all nice again, and the last scene is SW being crowned queen, and happily they just leave it at that, no wedding with the HM or whatever. They just let it be about her power, and there you go, end of story.
< < < SPOILERS END
Okay, it might have been a touch too long, and a touch too repetitive, and have a few notable coinkidinks or contrived conveniences, but overall, it gives you what you want, which is a fairy take rendered seriously. You get castles, evil queens, knights, spells, fairies, enchanted forests, the whole deal, and it's all rendered as seriously as it can possibly be. There are a billion CGI special effects, like everywhere you turn, but they are relatively creative and they have TEXTURE and feeling. Like when SW bites the poisoned apple and it suddenly sprouts brown moss and rots in her hand, then the queen bursts into a bunch of crows, then the crows turn to thick black slime and the queen reconstitutes out of it... it's all very tactile and it has an aesthetic that is of a piece with the overall film. So overall you get to see a fairy tale movie without it being too embarrassing.
And the cast gamely give themselves to it without winking, most notably Charlize Theron who throws herself into the part of the evil queen with gusto and just goes for it. And although Kristen Stewart has a bit of baggage from her other films, you know what? She's good, and magnetic, and she seems both girlish and womanly, vulnerable and strong. I'd love to see her as a femme fatale in a noir, because she's got those sensual half-asleep eyes. Anyway, it gives you what you want, and it's fun, big and sensual... I actually think it should have been bigger and done better than it did.
If you like this sort of thing and want a decent, fun movie.