A film review by Craig J. Koban March 13, 2013
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
2013, PG-13, 112 mins.
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
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.