Jack the Giant Slayer Review
Bryan Singer fee-fi-fo-fumbles the ball with Jack the Giant Slayer, a lifeless CGI-soaked fantasy adventure that manages to make an invasion by giants seem an entirely pedestrian event. One of those projects that was probably misconceived from the very beginning (how DO you make an epic adventure out of what is essentially a silly fairy tale?), the various ingredients fail to gel into a satisfying whole. A weak script, miscast stars and uneven tone result in a stodgy pudding with too little excitement to sustain its high concept. With any luck this is a brief misstep in the careers of all involved, who are capable of far, far better than this.
After an odd computer-animated prologue about how, centuries ago, King Eric defeated a group of marauding giants with a magic crown made from giants’ blood, we meet Jack (Nicholas Hoult), an 18-year old farm boy easily distracted from his work. At a market in the castle of Cloister he meets and falls in love with the adventure-seeking Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and gets into a fight, before being handed some magic beans by a monk on the run (it’s all go in Cloister, y’know). It turns out these beans are the very ones that allowed the giants to descend from their kingdom in the sky all those years ago: once wet, they turn into enormous beanstalks in a matter of seconds. And, wouldn’t you know it, it rains that very night. After Isabelle is accidentally swept up to the cloud-dwelling giants, a rescue party made up of her betrothed Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Jack, and the royal guards led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor), are dispatched to retrieve her.
Fairy tales can work on the big screen of course; look no further than Stardust or The Princess Bride for prime examples. Both of those were able to balance their whimsical narratives with a lightness of touch that allowed anyone to buy in to their outlandish nature, while preserving the essence of their story’s message. Unfortunately any lightness of touch has been lost in the attempt to deliver action and spectacle at any cost. There are a few enjoyable set-pieces, especially during the mid-section in the Giants’ kingdom, and later in the mildly engaging final battle sequence, but there’s precious little heart behind it. The story grinds on with swooping aerial shots and iffy CGI, but the characters fail to register as anything more than cardboard cutouts and the script never hints at acknowledging the silliness of it all.
It seems overly harsh to point the finger of blame at the cast, as they do try their best, but there’s no getting around the fact that some of them are out of their depth. Hoult is a talented actor, but he doesn’t look comfortable as either action or romantic lead. Equally McGregor never seems happy when confronting CGI creations of one sort or another. Ian McShane has very little to do, while Tucci’s villainous turn is never overplayed (which, in hindsight, was perhaps a mistake). Relative newcomer Tomlinson is the pick of the bunch, and Bill Nighy as the Giant general certainly has fun; but in the end performances are drowned out by the special effects overload and, in the 3D version at least, an overly dark screen that frequently makes it a chore to watch.
A sequel-baiting finale promises a far more interesting approach, but it’s doubtful it will ever come to pass; which, all things considered, is probably just as well. You could never tell this was a Bryan Singer film if his name wasn't on the credits. Let's hope he bounces back with next year’s X-Men sequel, and rediscovers how to balance story, emotion and spectacle as well as he did in the first entries of that series.