Jack the Giant Slayer
By Jenna Brower
March 1, 2013
Jack the Giant Slayer starts out like many movies of its kind – with a tall tale. At the same time but in different places of one kingdom, a father reads a story about fearsome giants to his boy, and a mother reads the same story to her daughter. The difference is in their situations: the father and his son are poor, common folk, and the mother and her daughter are the queen and princess of the kingdom, known as Cloister.
Cut to 10 years later, and boy and girl are all grown up. But they both still love a good tall tale. Both watch a play about the giant story their deceased parents used to read to them. Some rowdy men try to chat up the disguised princess. Jack tries to defend her honor until her bodyguards whisk her away. Of course, Princess Isabelle and Jack do meet again, under the long shadows of some not-so-mythical giants, and Jack finds himself playing the "hero" to the Princess' "distressed damsel."
It’s a straightforward plot, based, of course, on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. Straightforward is the name of the game for this film, which settles for good escapism and decent laughs.
The cast is not particularly developed. Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) play Jack and Isabelle, but their characters are not stretched to capacity and remain flat. Ewan McGregor plays Elmont, the princess’ most faithful knight, and he honestly cuts the most of the dashing hero profile. Maybe it was the impeccably coiffed—and suspiciously modern—hairdo he had going on, but I had more fun watching Elmont battle it out with Isabelle’s snake of a fiancé (Stanley Tucci with an unfortunate gap tooth) than Jack slaying giants.
But oh, the giants! The visual effects and technical aspects of this movie shine through more than anything else in the film does, faint praise though that is. The giants have some impressively hideous features, including an extra head sprouting from the shoulder of their leader, General Fallon.
As this is one of these new "dark, edgy fairy tales" Hollywood has become so fond of, there is a good bit of violence, especially with the eating habits of the giants. But other than some half-eaten sheep, the giants never really sell you on their wickedness. The aren't as villainous as they need to be—that came more from Tucci’s power-hungry Roderick, and even he never manifests as a force of enough evil to justify the ongoing battle.
Actually, the original fairy tale for Jack is plenty dark as it is, including a pretty morally bankrupt main character who steals gold from the giants he visits. The movie does show Jack in the giants’ cavernous treasure room, surrounded by gold, at one point. They give a wink to the original fairy tale by showing Jack admiring a golden harp. In the original yarn, Jack steals it, but our golden-hearted hero doesn’t even touch it.
Moral fiber intact, Jack does make it back down the beanstalk and though the story could easily end there, it doesn't. The filmmakers throw in some twists to keep the action going, and the film attempts to rival much bigger fantasy epics with some lofty battle scenes, but it never manages much grandeur.
Director Bryan Singer has made some good films in the past (the first two X-Men films and The Usual Suspects, in particular) but this film lacks his usual clarity of vision. Instead, we've been served a lukewarm, middling mess that entertains just fine, but fails to truly impress. In the end, it lacks what just about all these fairy tale reboots so far have lacked—something so central to their charm it's no small wonder that the films flop without it: heart.