"Snow White & the Huntsman" _ Astonishingly beautiful and breathtaking in its brutal imagery, thrilling and frightening in equal measure, yet as bereft of satisfying substance as a poisoned apple. Director Rupert Sanders' revisionist take on the classic Brothers Grimm fable upends expectations of traditional gender roles while simultaneously embracing what a fairy tale should be. It's dark and dangerous, vicious and violent. And yet the performances _ notably from Kristen Stewart as the title character _ don't always live up to the film's visionary promise. First, there's the problem of casting anyone who's supposed to be fairer than Charlize Theron as the evil queen. But beyond Stewart's distractingly inconsistent British accent, she simply lacks the presence to serve as a convincing warrior princess. Theron, meanwhile, gets too screechy; with her imposing height, deep voice and mesmerizing beauty, she's far more powerful when she dials it down. Still, the look and the energy of "Snow White & the Huntsman" keep it engaging. Theron, as the magical and manipulative Ravenna, has married (and quickly killed) the widower king, locked his daughter Snow White in a tower and plunged a once-peaceful realm into a wasteland. Once the princess comes of age and earns her fairest-of-them-all status, Ravenna's power is threatened. This sets the film's chase in motion: Snow White escapes and Ravenna hires a veteran huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find her, but instead this tormented soul becomes her reluctant protector. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality. 125 minutes. Three stars out of four.
_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic