Jack the Giant Slayer is a no, no, no
Director Bryan Singer still seems to be chasing the greatness that’s eluded him since 1995’s The Usual Suspects, his second film and modern cinematic classic. His latest, Jack the Giant Slayer, is another well-intentioned, yet boring adventure that never climbs the heights to reach its full potential.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) grew up reading about an ancient clash between humanity and giants, but as a farm boy forced to sell livestock to eat, adventure is hardly in his future. Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) also longs for excitement, but is under constant watch by the brave Elmont (Ewan McGregor, The Impossible) and his royal guard on orders of her overprotective father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane). Brahmwell has arranged for her to marry the shifty Roderick (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games), despite little reason for Brahmwell to trust the clearly slimy Roderick, let alone let him marry his daughter.
You’re familiar with the story, but Singer has Isabelle taken up to the spectacularly-realized giants’ homeland filled with sprawling mountains and lavish waterfalls via magic beans that sprout a massive beanstalk. Between the backdrop, costumes and giants’ CGI work, the film looks the part of an epic.
Jack joins Elmont’s guard and Roderick, who has his own motives for accompanying the rescue mission. Tucci is fun as the scheming villain and McGregor, bless him, gives the role his all and the film is at least moderately interesting whenever they’re on screen.
The film has been long in the making as D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) was originally signed on to direct it in 2009 before being replaced by Singer, who had his longtime screenwriting collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) significantly rewrite the script. I’d love to see the original script as I imagine it involved a more heroic/less passive observer Jack.
Singer apparently wanted a movie involving a war between humans and giants, but was stuck having to work Jack — a non-factor for the most part. Put it this way — Hoult had more acting opportunities in his last film where he played a zombie. Sure, it’s more realistic that Jack doesn’t magically turn from peasant to great warrior, but at every turn Elmont is doing something all awesome and heroic while Jack is running away to protect Isabelle. It doesn’t help that the giants are portrayed as such lumbering oafs so Jack being able to evade them isn’t all that impressive. Singer would have been better-suited making the giants come across more threatening — one gets taken out by a swarm of bees — so Jack in turn would look more heroic battling them.
Singer’s longtime cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel wisely tells the story through a sunny backdrop, which also benefits the better than average 3D as you can make out what’s occurring on screen.
Singer dutifully strives to keep the film family-friendly so character deaths are largely hinted at, but never directly shown on screen. He curiously decides to have one death so graphic that a character’s eyes pop out. Combined with the 3D, it seems to be the specific scene that warranted the PG-13 rating. Beyond that, the violence is as parental guidance necessary as Willow.
The final battle isn’t anything you haven’t seen before on the storming the castle front, but it is a nice big battle that pays off what Singer had been building up to all along.
Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t so offensively stupid you’ll feel insulted for paying to see it, but this is strictly middle of the road entertainment, which given the premise seems like a more difficult feat to accomplish. Skip it unless you’re a giant fan of McGregor or Hoult.