Review: Jack the Giant Slayer – You don’t know Jack
Jack the Giant Slayer is Hollywood’s latest tweaked fairytale; a mash-up of the “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” fables from the early nineteenth century, with a dash of current pop culture sensibilities and special effects mixed in. It creates fresh new folklore for the “legume lad” and is a fun adventure film despite a few flaws.
This is not the “Jack” you thought you knew from your childhood. A reimagined mythology regarding the relationship between giants and men is established in the opening scenes of this film. Unfortunately, this section immediately left a bad taste in my mouth in that the computer animated sequences at the start of the movie are heinously bad – as if they were created with 1990s CGI technology. The good news is that the computer animation later in the movie is more state-of-the-art.
I don’t know if the cheap animation at the beginning of the film was intentional or just the product of a budget shortfall, but the opening men versus giants history lesson would have been better served with simple graphic stills drawn by any artist of mediocre talent.
The film begins with the bedtime tale about the giants being told simultaneously to Jack, a farmer’s young son, and Isabelle, a young princess and daughter of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane). We then fast-forward 10 years and the two youngsters are in their late teens and yearning for the adventures seeded by the stories from their youth.
While in town to sell his Uncle’s horse, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) has a chance encounter with Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) when he defends her honor against a band of unruly miscreants. She is escorted away from the incident by the King’s guards, headed by Elmont (Ewan McGregor), but not before Jack impresses the Princess with his act of bravery.
Meanwhile a monk has broken into the King’s palace and stolen a crown and magic beans that have been hidden since the time of the great battle between giants and men. But before he can escape with the items the kingdom walls are shut while guards search for the thief.
The “monk-on-the-run” buys Jack’s horse with the magic beans and directs him to return them to the local monastery in return for cash; and sternly warns the boy that he should not let them get wet under any circumstances.
Jack returns home with the beans and is admonished by his Uncle for foolishly letting the horse go in return for the measly payment, reminding the boy that monks don’t have any money. The old man tosses the beans on the floor and before Jack can scoop them up one of them falls through a crack in the floorboard to the dirt below.
That night the Princess is lost while riding her horse in the rain but finds her way to Jack’s house and before you can say, “Fee-fi-fo-fum,” a giant beanstalk sprouts from underneath the shanty home and sends the Princess flying into the clouds to the land of the giants.
The King’s men, together with Jack and the ruler’s conniving adviser, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), set about climbing the enormous vine to save the endangered Princess Isabelle. At their destination they find a land inhabited by dirty & disgusting giants with an incredible ability to sniff out the stench of men. It’s up to Jack to save the Princess and the Kingdom when the film climaxes in an all-out battle between the puny humans and the grisly gargantuans.
There are some giant-size plot holes in this movie, like what happened to Jack’s Parents, not to mention his Uncle who magically appears and then disappears from the story; so leave your thinking cap at home for this one. At least there is a lot of fun and action that helps to make up for the faulty convoluted narrative.
Most of the giants in this movie are generic in nature, but there are a handful who are given a little characterization, like the two-headed leader of the tribe, with one head that is mentally handicapped (think George & Lennie from Of Mice and Men, if they were Siamese twins – and giants.) Some of the other giants are only given aesthetic attributes to differentiate them, like big hair for instance – and apparently there are no female giants in this world.
Jack the Giant Slayer is directed by Bryan Singer, who is both loved (see X-Men) and hated (see Superman Returns) by genre fans; and sadly he brings tonal inconsistencies to this movie, which is its biggest downfall. A lot of the violence takes place off-screen, which is a necessity if you are shooting for that all-encompassing PG-13 rating; but then we also have giants exploding with eyeballs and body parts flying all over the place – just without the blood.
So as an adult moviegoer with no children, I would have liked to see this film be more mature and realistic (and in keeping with its historically morbid source material.) But if I were a parent concerned about subjecting my kids to violence, I think I’d have to pass on this movie. It misses both marks by trying to please everyone and make bigger bucks at the box-office.
On a positive note, I’m loving actor Nicholas Hoult, who was also awesome in the recent film Warm Bodies. This young actor is one to watch and I think he has a great career ahead of him. (Might I suggest him as Yorick Brown in a Y: the Last Man film series?) He captures just the right blend of youthful naiveté and confidence that you might expect from a young farm boy who becomes Jack the Giant Killer/Slayer.
Overall, this is a fine adventure film with plenty to like if you are simply content with a bag of popcorn and a couple of hours’ worth of mindless escapism. Jack the Giant Slayer had potential to be vastly better than it is, but the makers of this movie should have learned that, “if you try to please everyone, you will end by pleasing no one.” Or is that a different fable …?
Photos © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment