A film review by Craig J. Koban March 13, 2013


2013, PG-13, 112 mins.

Jack: Nicholas Hoult / Elmont: Ewan McGregor / Roderick: Stanley Tucci / King: Ian McShane / Gen. Fallon: Bill Nighy / Isabelle: Eleanor Tomlinson / Crawe: Eddie Marsan

Directed by Bryan Singer / Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney


Two questions plagued me all the way through JACK THE GIANT SLAYER: 

(1) Did we really need a big screen retelling of the legendary English folktale JACK AND THE BEANSTALK? 

(2) At a massive $200 million dollar budget and with the talent of director Bryan Singer at the helm, is the film really worthy of your investment? 

Answers: An overwhelmingly “no” and a dissatisfied “not really.” 

JACK AND THE GIANT SLAYER, as far a visually arresting and wondrous movie fantasies go, is altogether a tediously unexciting 3D-infused spectacle that very rarely, if ever, inspires a limitless sense of awe and wonder in its sights and overall story.  Here’s a film that cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to produce, is directed by the oh-so-capable man that previously made THE USUAL SUSPECTS, the first two X-MEN films, and VALKYRIE, and stars a relatively game and engaging cast and it all…well…just listlessly sits there of the screen.  For a man like Singer to make a film like this – considering the resources at his disposal – without ever really commanding my genuine interest proves to be undeniably disappointing.  Perhaps more damning is that Singer seems more compelled here at launching a new digital effects-heavy/dramatically negligible film series than with telling a truly compelling narrative that strikes a cord with viewers.  As a result, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER feels too much like a tailored made, mass marketed product and not a worthwhile and thrillingly immersive escapist entertainment. 



The story here is a pretty simplistic and paint-by-numbers variety effort that seems to heavily borrow elements from countless other past fantasies.  Nicholas Hoult (so devilishly good playing a member of the undead in WARM BODIES, but here seems more stiff and mannered as a living breathing human being) plays the titular Jack, a somewhat shy, reserved, and impoverished farm lad.  He has eyes on the easy-on-the-eyes Princess Isabelle (the pretty, but bland Eleanor Tomlinson), who, yup, can’t ever marry a commoner like Jack due to regal code, especially if her father, King Brahwell (Ian McShane) has anything to say about it.  Everyone exists in a two-tiered universe where humans occupy the Earth, whereas mankind-hungry giants live way, way up among the clouds.  

One day Jack comes into possession of a pouch of magic beans that he received for trading in his Uncle’s horse in hopes of saving his farm.  The uncle is predictably upset at poor Jack, and after a heated argument Jack accidentally drops one of the beans on the ground during a rainstorm (he was warned never to get them wet).  Without warning, a massive beanstalk begins to grow directly under his house, sending it up several miles in the sky.  Wouldn’t ya know it, but Princess Isabelle is in the house as it ascends into the heavens – and into the clutches of the universally feared giants – so the King decides to send some of his finest men, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor, letting his sly smile and gargantuan Elvis-inspired pompadour hairline do most of the acting) along with Jack up the stalk to retrieve his daughter.  Predictably, they encounter some dangerous giants, which is complicated further by the fact that one of the King’s men, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) has turned on humanity and has aligned himself with the giants. 

The cast here seems like a win-win, for the most part, but they are never really properly harnessed.  Nicolas Hoult is a fine young actor with low-key charm, but he's not really engaging or charismatic enough to be the lead in an epically mounted fantasy (that, and with his dusty hoodie and contemporarily styled locks, he looks less like he belongs in a medieval themed fantasy and more like he stepped off of the cover of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue).  Tomlinson’s Isabelle is fetchingly attractive, but lacks emotional spunk required for the role.  McShane seems to have little gravitas in his role of the determined, but concerned monarch.  Curiously enough, McGregor seems oddly delegated to the sidelines of the narrative when, ironically enough, the ageless star could have easily been the title character here.  At least Stanley Tucci plays his villainous role affectionately over-the-top to register above his lackluster co-stars.  He seems to be the only actor here that understands why playing his role broadly is kind of required for this material.   

Sadly, the inadequate performances are not assisted by the film’s production design and visual effects.  At $200 million, I rarely gained an impression that all of it was ever on screen.  The vistas of the King’s castle and sweeping camera pans over his residing kingdom maintain a momentary level of grandness and impressive scale, but just about everything else around them seems muted and middle-of-the road.  When the beanstalk does rise, it’s all pretty neat and engaging, but the world of the giants – and the giants themselves – are wholeheartedly sub-standard as creations.  The film is wall-to-wall with obtrusive CGI to realize the world of the behemoths, all of who seem made up of warts, rotting teeth, leaking snot, and greasy and mangled hair.  The head giant, General Fallon (voiced performed by the great Bill Nighy) is arguably one of the film’s more intriguing characters, seeing as he has a second smaller and more intellectually diminutive head on his shoulder that constantly natters at him.  However, Fallon and his large companions never have any sense of tangible weight to them: they all, more or less, look and feel like polished cartoon characters. 

The film builds to a would-be rousing and exhilarating conclusion pitting giants versus humans on the King’s own turf, and the story even gives humanity a rather conveniently established advantage over them in the form of an ancient magical crown (forged partially by the remains of a long-since dead giant) that can instantly control them.  Even less impressive than this ho-hum and rather bloodless finale is the film’s 3D, which is surprisingly flat, inconspicuous, and ultimately not really worthy of a surcharged ticket price.  After seeing what great directors like James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, and Ridley Scott have done with this technology, Singer really seems to lack an adept hand for it here. 

Ultimately, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is so enamored with pixelated fakery that it frankly forgets to tell an interesting story that urgently resonates with us and makes us want to take the film’s ride.  There is not much in the way of razor-sharp wit, warmth, or even lasting amusement at the expense of the fantastical storyline here.  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is uneven, bland, generically engineered and mechanically presented, and is so ripe with glossy and detailed – but dehumanizingly artificial looking – digital effects that you’re just taken out of a film that’s desperately trying to transport you away from your movie theater surroundings.  That, and Singer’s esoteric fingerprints are nowhere to be found here.  He has been given all the tools required to tell a lavish scaled and involving fantasy here, but what he left on the drawing board were his unique skill set, a serviceable script, and unavoidably a reason for this film to exist in the first place beyond a cash-grabbing excuse to launch a franchise.  

Oh…and magic and fun too.  Those are AWOL here as well.

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