Directed by Bryan Singer
After an initial delay (from last summer), Bryan Singer’s fairy tale action-adventure Jack the Giant Slayer has finally arrived in theatres. The Usual Suspects and X-Men director seems an odd fit for the material, given its light tone and kid-friendly (though solidly PG-13) nature. And though the movie does have its missteps and never quite becomes the rousing romp it fancies itself as, it does make for a perfectly pleasant diversion and enjoyable watch if you have a couple of hours to spare.
The film, like its storybook source material, concerns Jack (Hoult), a poor farm boy who dreams of a more exciting life, much like those in the books and tall tales he reads to pass the time at his uncle’s tiny cottage. Adventure and excitement do visit Jack – in the form of magic beans passed along to him by a desperate monk and a certain Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson) looking to escape the confines of her dutiful life. You see, she’s due to be married off by her father, King Brahmwell (McShane), to his royal advisor Roderick (Tucci). Unbeknownst to Princess Isabelle and her father, Roderick has stolen a magical crown that will allow him the ability to control the race of giants that lives in the sky, in a land that can only be reached by the massive stalks that sprout forth from magic beans – the same magic beans the aforementioned monk stole when he stumbled across Roderick’s plan. The same beans that Jack now possesses, unaware of their power.
When Isabelle seeks shelter on a rainy night in Jack’s cottage, one of the magic beans is activated (like Mogwais, you just don’t get these damn things wet), causing a massive stalk to sprout from the ground – sending Jack’s cottage into the heavens with the princess in tow. Learning of this, King Brahmwell sends elite guard Elmont (McGregor, swashing some buckles with glee) and his men up the beanstalk along with Jack and the scheming Roderick. The plan, of course, is to rescue Isabelle from the kingdom of giants, hopefully before the gigantic creatures there discover the beanstalk and make their way down to the human’s world to rule it, much as they attempted to once long ago. Hijinx and derring-do ensue from there on out, with Jack discovering his inner hero while living out the adventures he’d always dreamed of, as Roderick advances his plan to lead the giants to earth so that he might rule all that is there.
The film has quite a bit going for it, certainly. The cast is all top-notch, the cinematography beautiful (in a bright, artificial sort of way), and the visual effects are all impressive enough. But with Singer’s abilities as a director (I count myself a fan – and yes, I loved Superman Returns) and given the stable of writers the film had (including Suspects scripter Christopher McQuarrie), one shouldn’t be blamed for expecting more out of this film. While the movie is enjoyable enough, it always falls just shy of being superb. The story is adequate, but hardly engrossing. The actors are all perfectly good, but never excellent. The humor is amusing, but never uproarious. The action is fun, but never jaw-dropping in the way that it feels it should be. Imagine Jack is a really great song with the volume turned down just too low. The result is just kinda “meh”.
Still, it’s not without its pleasures. As noted, the cast is all quite good. As Jack, Hoult makes for a fine lead, while Tomlinson makes for an appealing heroine. McGregor is clearly having a blast as Elmont and is still somehow managing to ward off the aging process (I’m giving him three more years – if he still looks like a dude in his 20s, then I call “vampire!”). Tucci makes for an unctuous villain (though I wish he’d cut loose a bit more with the mustache-twirling), with McShane rounding out the cast as the stern, yet noble King Brahmwell. As with every role of McShane’s, I couldn’t help but hold Brahmwell up to the actor’s signature role of Al Swearengen, the foul-mouthed saloon owner from HBO’s “Deadwood”. I’d have paid good money to witness the King calling any number of the attacking giants “c—ksuckers”. But I’m perhaps asking too much from a PG-13 flick. (Unrated director’s cut? Outtakes? Bloopers? I’ll take anything!)
In addition to the cast and the Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography, frequent Singer collaborator John Ottman gives the film a fun musical score which perfectly complements the energetic tale. And while the villainous giants are never completely photorealistic, they have enough personality that one can buy them as being real during the course of the film. A quick note – this reviewer watched the film in 3D and found it to be one of the better looking movies of recent memory in this format. The image takes on a nice depth, while there are some fun “in your face” moments sprinkled in throughout. If only all 3D flicks could be as competently designed.
But again, for all of its merits Jack the Giant Slayer never fully engages. A shame because the film had the potential to be a minor classic had its engine been firing on all cylinders. As it is, the movie is an enjoyable enough flick that might be a perfectly acceptable way to pass a couple of hours, provided you have the time and are caught up on all the other movies you need to see. So if you find yourself at a local multiplex with no terribly desirable options in front of you, go ahead and give Jack a look. Trust me; you could do worse.
3 out of 5