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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Bryan Singer has been known to occasionally make a pretty nice film or two in his career. While I'm a bit ambivalent to his first X-men, I unapologetically admire Superman Returns, X2, and the Usual Suspects. I think he's one of the few directors of the past 10 years to touch big tent-pole filmmaking with larger themes in mind (joined only so far by the likes of Ang Lee and Christopher Nolan); not always commercially successful , the man has chops. Unfortunately, he's been in a bit of a rut lately as Valkyrie was a dud and Superman Returns did not reach the commercial success he and Warner Bros. were hoping for. Much like Valkyrie was eternally delayed, the same goes for Jack the Giant Slayer. Supposedly, this was intended to provide more time for the effects crew to get their act together. Frankly, they shouldn't have even bothered.

The story opens on Jack (Nicholas Hoult) coming into possession of the eponymous magic beans while going to the kingdom to sell his uncle's horse. From there, we're introduced to Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), her royal protector Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and the clearly sinister advisor she is intended to marry, Roderick (Stanley Tucci). Isabelle doesn't want to marry Roderick and runs off and happens upon Jack's home. After a mishap with the beans, the obvious beanstalk sprouts up through the ground and Isabelle is catapulted up to the land of Giants. The film's remainder focuses on Jack, Elmont and Roderick's venturing up the beanstalk to retrieve her. An obvious, yet somewhat still bizarre, villainous turn and then rescue leads to a "big" war scene between the King's army and the invading Giants.

I'll make no bones about it: Jack the Giant Slayer is a terrible film. Primarily, it's criminally boring. The film's opening act has a fairly glacial pace that caused me to look at the time within about 20-30 minutes into the proceedings and despite a moment of interest when the first of the Giants appeared, the novelty quickly wore off and the monotony resumed. The idea of movie-watching is that you're supposed to be engrossed enough to be sucked away into imaginationland, or whatever your equivalent might be. The on-going tediousness of what Singer presents here only had me wondering what I'll be eating for lunch tomorrow. The film just feels like Bryan Singer's impression of a Peter Jackson fantasy film, but put together on a direct to video budget, with some really poorly fleshed out scripting. The film is utterly predictable, and shot in such a static way that there's no sense of dynamics in any of its proceedings. Things just sort of happen, and we're supposed to care without the film giving us much reason to do so.

Much of this lack of empathy is drawn from the script's thinly defined characterization. For example, Jack is supposed to be our protagonist throughout, yet he does very little of significance until the closing moments. We learn little to nothing about him and he's more or less a blank pretty face onto which we can project some idea of an effeminate male hero archetype. It's hard to root for the hero that you can't identify with, or can't at the very least feel like you understand his motivations. Hoult isn't the most dynamic of actors, so his performance isn't of much help here, but there's very little for him to even try to lift up. Isabelle is another area of concern, as the filmmakers are clearly trying to tell the audience "she's a tough chick! she wants adventure! she wants more out of life!" and instead they give us, as Hannah pointed out to me after the film, another damsel in distress. I can't think of anything of note that Isabelle did throughout the running time other than scream and nearly get eaten a couple of times. And Roderick? Poor Stanley Tucci deserves to be in a better film, but it looks like another paycheck role for him. His villainous scheme is pretty much nonsense, but at least kiddie-movie worthy. Yet, just as he starts to get a little bit interesting and his plans begin to unfold, he's shuffled off much like the greater ambitions of Bryan Singer's career. While the rest of the supporting players do nothing of note (how does one actually waste McShane in such a way?), McGregor looks like he's having a good time at least. Playing a sort of swash-buckling knight, he's probably getting the last of these jollies out of his system before he's completely aged out of this type of role. At the very least, he gives the audience someone to root for.

Additionally, Jack the Giant Slayer is a tonal mess. It combines the type of humor that appeals to young children: farting, nose picking, even a Looney Tunes style bee scheme, with some rather extreme violence. People are eaten quite frequently, though not directly shown on camera, and there's a good deal of stabbing and violent swordplay. It's almost as if the producers decided at some point to hedge their bets and make the film "hipper" for that 15-18 year old demo, and as a result, they created a film that appeals to no audience at all. Yet it's also a film that feels like it never ends. There's a point where you think, "well, at least that's over", but you'd be wrong and it continues on for 30 more excruciating minutes. We definitely considered walking out. If I had to force a positive on this one, I'd say that the Giants themselves are interestingly designed, and its always a pleasure to hear Bill Nighy's unique dulcet tones providing the vocalization for the main baddie.

When Lord of the Rings came out and was a huge success, there were a number of films that tried to be the next to strike gold in the fantasy genre. Other than Harry Potter, basically none of them ever succeeded.
Jack the Giant Slayer is a continuation of that trend as well clearly being made to capitalize on whatever is left in the fairy tale adaptation market place, following on the heels of such cinematic "triumphs" like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Brothers Grimm, and Red Riding Hood. Considering the lack of any kind of quality product in this wave, I sincerely hope it ends soon. This movie is more Beowulf and Eragon than Tolkien.

I give it a D-, and I'm really hoping for the best with whatever X-Men: Days of Future Past turns out to be.
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  1. For what the movie's worth, the movie has cool action, visuals, and a fun feel that hardly ever goes away. Good review Kyle.

    1. Thanks so much Dan, and thanks for reading. I enjoyed looking at your site very much!

  2. The film Jack the Giant Slayer is not very good only good and the children may not still accept this picture.There is no logic in this film perhaps like to see at only one time and never next.Waste of time.

    1. Agreed, especially on that last point. Thanks for reading!


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