Both Men In Black III and Snow White & the Huntsman are films obsessed with time. MIBIII plays with the notion of time as something that’s always slipping away, even when you have the power to manipulate it. And Snow White & the Huntsman, a more grown-up, gothic take on the Disney version, concerns itself with the inevitable march of time, despite one character’s blood-drenched plan to thwart it.
WARNING: Contains 110% spoilers!
The Good Stuff
Before I rip Snow White to shreds, let me say that it is visually delightful. The sets are dark and spooky (except for the few that are light and tinkerbell-filled). The effects work really well overall, especially with the evil mirror-shard soldiers and the Dark Forest creatures. In fact, he latter scene will probably scare the pants of some kids, so parents be warned. The costumes are as lovely as they are anachronistic.
MIBIII also has its good points, namely the commendable speediness of the film and the bright, shiny sets and characters. The Big Bad has a silly, Tim Curry-like vibe that meshes with the general mood of the movie. The look of the extras (both in the present setting and in the 60s era) is fun, playing like a stupid version of Mad Men, or like a community theater that chooses to be cute rather than accurate.
MIBIII has the luxury of established characters, so we knew going in that we get Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, who perform exactly as expected. Young Agent K is Josh Brolin, who mimics Jones’ accent and mannerisms in an eerily precise way. But the best character is the multi-dimensional alien Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. Griffin works as a distracted, outwardly-naive character who nonetheless acts shrewdly when his back’s against the wall. His “talent” of seeing multiple possible futures was by far the most interesting and innovative part of the story, and I only wish it had been explored a little more. But I realize that Griffin isn’t our star. Smith is, and his goofy, eternal surprise at what he encounters as a Man in Black wears thin fast. He responds like a newbie too often, rather than as the veteran he really is. His knowledge seems to vary simply because of what the scene requires at the time. Thankfully, the movie moves briskly enough that these problems are quickly passed by, like roadkill on a highway.
Snow White deliberately goes a bit afield story-wise, so there’s no obvious choices for these roles. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Charlize Theron was actually pretty damn good, playing a bitchy but insecure woman who knows that her hold on power is too precarious to risk, yet still succumbs to the pull of autocracy by performing high-handed and ultimately damaging moves. On the other hand, Kristen Stewart is horribly miscast, which is to say, she was cast at all. Her acting is so awful that she makes Charlize Theron look like Meryl Streep. Even during the movie, I decided that the chick from Suckerpunch would have been a better choice...turns out, she was considered. Emily Browning is far closer to the gamine, big-eyed prettiness that I picture Snow White to embody, and has demonstrated showy ass-kicking skills. Yet we’re stuck with Mouthbreather Bella of the Single Expression. Sigh.
Fighting Expectations and Monsters
Seen without sound, Snow White looks just fine. But there is sound. And every time a character utters a line, there’s a 60% chance of stupidity. People hoping for a realistic, military reboot of the story, as suggested by the previews (thinking Snow White might be a better-fated Joan of Arc-type) will be disappointed. The battle scenes are redonkulously silly, as if plotted by someone whose sole knowledge of military history involves Legos. (But points to you, one person, for using a shield wall formation! Party like it’s A.D. 99!) Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman has been billed as a badass who understands the Dark Forest, and trains Snow up in the finer points of killing people. But his contribution is in fact limited to one trick he teaches Snow while they’re running through a hallucinogenic forest. Of course, that one trick saves the day in the end, so he’s still a good guy to have around. He’s also a confusing guy to have around, since he oscillates from antagonist to ally to possibly love interest to ally again, with little resolution. To worsen the issue, there’s another male character, William, who drops everything to find Snow in the forest. But whether his motivation is friendship, loyalty, love, or cold-blooded self-interest we’re never told.
The settings are just as shifty. Is Snow White set in a pure fantasy realm? Or did the director want to anchor it in a mostly realistic, medieval European world? Either would have be fine. The film seems to lean towards the former, but there are a few jarring indicators that someone didn’t get that memo. The most egregious is when Snow recites the Lord’s Prayer for no particular reason while she’s gripping two dollies in front of a hearth. Why such an obvious nod to a Christian world, when no one else references it? Why does she say it right then? For a second, I thought Snow was going to perform some witchy spell and the Lord’s Prayer was really to ask forgiveness from J.C. before she dabbled in paganism. But no, turns out there was no reason for the recital. Or the dolls. Or the kneeling. It’s just there, as if the film editors merely forgot to snip it out.
Snow White runs like several scenes got left in the editing room by accident, while other things survived the cuts that should not have. MIBIII is a lot cleaner in that respect, probably because it identified its audience straightaway: the very same folks who saw the first two films. So its story problems are largely confined to the usual plot holes that any time travel story will have to grapple with. So, on to...
MIBIII has them, of course. What movie with time travel does not? Even the best case scenario is likely to involve a paradox. MIBIII’s plot juggles several once Agent J dashes down the temporal rabbit hole, but with the exception of one major one at the end, these plot snags are relatively minor. The biggie is the notion that K knew J from J’s childhood, whereas the first movie naturally makes no such suggestion (J simply fell into the MIB organization due to his luck and athleticism). But retconning can be a pain in the ass, especially because this sequel comes nearly 15 years after the original. There’s no sense in solving a problem that isn’t bothering anyone.
The logic holes in Snow White are larger, and unfortunately tend to occur where the fairy tale plot lynchpins are. The worst, worst, worst problems all involve the poisoned apple. Remember that bit from Snow White? Remember the way that it’s kinda a major aspect of the tale? Yeah, that bit. In this movie, the poisoned apple appears with no announcement, and via a means that isn’t really explained (the Queen knew to impersonate William how? According to the plot timeline, she never met him and she never reveals an awareness that he knows Snow at all, let alone is with her in the forest). Here’s a great example of a time where the Magic Mirror of Exposition could have been used in an effective, 15-second scene. Alas, it was not. Or maybe it was, and that scene got cut. In any case, it should never fall to the viewer to supply story.
However, far worse than the apple eating is the “revival” scene. Since we’re never told whether Snow’s apple had a poison meant to kill her, or merely to incapacitate her so the Queen could eat her heart, we don’t know if the moment of her awakening is magical, or just coincidental. Is it important that she wakes up after being kissed, particularly because the kiss isn’t given by her age-matchy admirer, but rather by the older Huntsman? (IMDB tells me that Viggo Mortensen and Johnny Depp were both considered for the Huntsman, which reinforces my belief that the movie wasn’t intended to have a love triangle, but rather that the Huntsman was supposed to be a sort of father figure. The part simply wasn’t rewritten to clarify that after Hemsworth signed on). But there’s no getting around the fact that the task of kissing the princess falls not to the one who has adored her since childhood, but to a sketchy drunk who can’t decide if Snow is the chosen one or a simple pain in the ass rich bitch. The anti-climactic, ambiguous ending only highlights the confusion. Maybe a Griffin-esque character offering alternate futures would have spiced it up. Oh, well.
Take This and Run
- Snow White & the Huntsman: pretty face, no personality, and a seriously problematic plot
- Men in Black III: inoffensive but forgettable. An adequate closure to a series that required no closure because people barely remember the first two.