If you saw the trailer for Mirror Mirror, odds are you were thinking what we were thinking: what on Earth is this and why did they green-light it? It looked awful. The promo was tacky, unfunny, and grasping desperately for Shrek-esque pop-culture references. Despite the fact that it’s directed by Tarsem, who has a track record of making his films look beautiful even if they don’t always make sense (The Fall, The Cell, Immortals), it’s fair to say that we didn’t go in with the highest of expectations.
Since the disappearance of her father The King, Snow White (Lily Collins) has been kept prisoner in her room by the wicked Queen (Julia Roberts), who is in dire need of finances to maintain her extravagant lifestyle. With the arrival of the dashing Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), the Queen sees an opportunity to snare some cash, and the strapping young man, for herself. But when the Prince only has eyes for Snow, the Queen banishes her step-daughter to the dark woods.
It’s a great relief to report that Mirror Mirror is nowhere near as bad as its promotional campaign. In fact, it’s actually quite a lot of fun. After a shaky start, which has Roberts cattily narrating a puppet-ed prologue, the film warms up to show a much quicker wit than the trailer suggested. The ace in the hole is Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar), who nails the material with a funny, unselfconscious turn as the nice-but-dim, and often shirtless, Prince. Collins doesn’t exactly have to stretch herself but she rises to the occasion when required and plays the Disney-style princess beautifully. Roberts, however, is given a lot of the weaker gags and goes big. When she’s on, she’s on, but there’s a lot that doesn’t really work, though she shares a nice rapport with Nathan Lane’s long-suffering butler.
Then there are the Seven Dwarves. Their action sequences are impressively inventive and entertaining and there are solid turns from veteran character actors such as Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld, Watchmen), Jordan Prentice (In Bruges), and Martin Klebba (Pirates of the Caribbean). Their chemistry together is great, they’re consistently funny, and they’re an especially welcome presence during the slightly ropey second half.
Why is the second half ropey? Well, there’s not really a lot of story. Snow gets kicked out, Snow allies herself with the bandits, Snow and the bandits aim for revenge. Given the source material, it’s disappointing that the script only goes back and forth between the castle and the bandits’ hideout, from Roberts’ preening to Collins and the gang plotting. It’s obviously aimed at a very young audience, but that’s hardly an excuse for so little substance. Still, Tarsem’s always been a visual director and it’s certainly sumptuous to look at. The costume designs by the late Eiko Ishioka are stunning and the production design by Tom Foden is similarly lovely.
Finally, it’s a big, colourful, funny spin on the fairy-tale that’s light on the tale, but entertaining all the same.
So much better than the trailer. It’s not a complete success but it’s funny, entertaining, and Hammer gives a fantastic comic turn.