Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Scenes of Fantasy Action Violence, some Frightening Images and brief Language
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie & Dan Studney
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Thomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane & Bill Nighy
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER went through an overly long production period. It ultimately suffers as a clear example of too many conflicts between what the director wanted, what the screenwriters intended, and the studios’ vision. It seems like nobody got along in one clear idea of how this film should have played out and it becomes a victim of identity crisis. For half of the running time, JACK plays out like a children’s cartoon brought to life. During some brief glimpses, a darker streak is revealed as to how creative this movie could have actually wound up being. Everything concludes in a messy almost middle-of-the-road effort that winds up being serviceable enough as family entertainment.
In a far away kingdom, Jack is a commoner struggling to get by on his uncle’s farm. In the towering castle nearby lives a generic princess who doesn’t want to be forced into marrying a selfish royal with a considerable age difference. The princess’ name is Isabelle. As fate would have it, Jack and a disguised Isabelle meet in the marketplace. The two fall instantly head-over-heels for each other. After the princess is revealed and taken back to her over-bearing father, a monk gives Jack some sacred relics (magic beans) for safe keeping. A rain storm hits and one of the beans gets wet, growing into a huge beanstalk up into the clouds and taking the helpless Isabelle with it. Those familiar with well-known fairy tale will know that a city of hungry giants is waiting at the top of the beanstalk. Jack journeys up into the clouds with a group of knights to rescue the princess.
For a film that’s supposed to be a more lively version of a fairly basic tale, new additions have been made to the story. I wasn’t expecting that the film would tell everything as predictably and simple as possible. However, the needlessly exposition-heavy script adds in many subplots and different directions, but the real problem lies in that every single ounce of this movie is predictable. The film plays out far too long (90 minutes would have been plenty) and the mix of trying to make it both family friendly and darker results in a movie that won’t necessarily delight any particular audience. It’s not as if JACK is a terrible movie, but it’s a by-the-numbers popcorn flick that always plays it safe (despite the PG-13 rating) and doesn’t offer anything new or interesting. This feels like a live-action adaptation of a so-so Disney cartoon.
The cast and characters aren’t given much to work with, therefore they merely add to the blandness of the story being told. Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson as Jack and Isabelle are equally wooden. When the film utilizes a familiar clichéd technique of cutting together conversations that both characters are having with their parents, it only showcased how uninspired things were. We’ve seen that device used over and over. It’s gotten old and JACK has the audacity to implement it twice in the first 20 minutes. Talented actors Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan are all put into thankless roles as royalty that I couldn’t have cared less about.
As the villains go, they’re also generic, but the actors in these bad guy roles seem to be having fun. Stanley Tucci plays a corrupt higher-up who intends to ruling the kingdom by marrying the reluctant princess Isabelle. Before you can say Jafar (among other royal baddies), Tucci is hamming up every second he appears on-screen. Tucci is using every bad cliché to his advantage and even uttering some corny one-liners. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the voice of Bill Nighy doing his best Davy Jones-voice (appropriate seeing as he played that character and this new gigantic monster is made up of the amount of CGI used on that octopus-bearded pirate) in the form of a two-headed giant.
The effects work ranges from very cool to downright cartoony. At points, the beanstalk looks like it belongs in a Syfy Channel movie and the same can be said for the giants. However, there are some really impressive looking giants showcased. These effects also add into the mixed tone that the movie jumps around with. The climax goes on for far too long and there’s a would-be epic battle that resembles Helm’s Deep in the TWO TOWERS. The problem is that it’s treated with an epic scope for the second half of the movie and nothing in the film feels honest about this sequence. This scene is unbelievably repetitive and yearns to be more serious, when everything seen up to that point is wacky.
The reason that I don’t downright hate JACK THE GIANT SLAYER or consider it to be a completely middle-of-the-road experience comes in some of the good effects, hammy villains, and over-the-top scenarios. I could see this film possibly gaining a cult fan base over the years in the same way that something like LABRYNTH or THE DARK CRYSTAL has. It’s the same kind of kid-friendly fantasy that goes dark in some places (though it downright gets messy in the effort to please both young and old audiences). If JACK THE GIANT SLAYER came out in the 80’s around the same time as THE NEVERENDING STORY or LEGEND, then it would have been right at home (though on a lesser level than both of those films). In the end, it’s a decent time killer that a possible young audience might warm up to over a decade or so. It’s just a pity that everything is so scattered about with clichés, familiarity, a mixed tone, and cartoony logistics.