The burly boys of summer in the form of The Avengers and Men in Black 3 have had their way with the box office long enough.
Time for a $100-million-plus action-adventure driven by an epic clash between two female forces, one good and one evil — with the actor who inhabits Thor going along for the ride instead of saving the day.
Snow White and the Huntsman, opening Friday, pits Twilight's Kristen Stewart as a strong-willed storybook princess destined to rescue her kingdom against Charlize Theron as a frosty aging queen who has a vampire-like need to feed on young beauties as part of her anti-wrinkle regimen.
"I love to play against expectations," says Rupert Sanders, a British commercial whiz whose directing debut has more in common with the grit of The Lord of the Rings than a larkish Disney fantasy. "It is great. I've got two masculine performances from female actors."
Not that they act like men. "That happens sometimes when films turn women into action heroes. But I made a decision not to have Kristen do anything that she wouldn't realistically be able to do. No Bruce Lee or Braveheart moves. She is not on a killing rampage. The men follow her into battle because of the spirit within her."
The script might be based on a Grimm fairy tale in which the princess in peril prides herself on her housecleaning skills. But not since Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West duked it out over a pair of red pumps has womankind been given such an expansive big-screen arena to work out generational issues.
It says it all that Stewart's Snow White dons tomboy leggings under her torn royal garb as she hides out in the woods, while Theron's Ravenna cloaks herself in runway-ready villainy chic as she plots her dirty deeds.
Reaction so far suggests that audiences are ready for such a change of pace.
As Sanders notes, "People called us 'the other Snow White film' for a while," referring to Mirror Mirror, a tepidly greeted comical spin on the same fable that won the race to reach theaters this year. But first is not necessarily best, he notes. "We were the most-viewed trailer on iTunes when it came out."
Many male-driven action vehicles feel free to marginalize women — much online chatter has been devoted to the attention paid to the leather-clad behind of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow in The Avengers.
But Chris Hemsworth, a 6-foot-3 monument of manly might, is granted a beefy sidekick role as the grief-stricken huntsman Eric hired by the queen to seize Snow White's still-beating heart. Instead of going through with the heinous act, the hard-drinking widower finds redemption as he teaches the runaway princess to fend for herself — and with hardly a hint of romantic intent, either.
Plus, save for a patching of a wound, he keeps his shirt on.