So far in his career Bryan Singer has done no wrong by me. I’ve enjoyed all of his outings in one way or another (yes, I’m a Superman Returns defender) and so while others scoffed at Jack the Giant Slayer I remained optimistic. The way I saw it, even if the film was dumb as bricks Singer could infuse some life into it and anything that gives Nicholas Hoult more screen time isn’t all bad.
Of course putting your faith in a director often leads to eventual soul crushing disappointment. One day every director betrays us. It’s just bound to happen. Did Singer finally let me down with what is obviously his least cool project? Well, I’m still a fan, and that’s actually saying a lot.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Director: Bryan Singer
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Jack the Giant Slayer is one of the many cash-ins studios are taking on the fairy tale genre. See, studios don’t have to pay rights for fairy tales and since they’re fairy tales they’re an already established brand. It’s a win/win for the studios, but a lot of the time it’s not a win for the fairy tale itself. Mutilated and restructured to be worthy of a modern full length movie the story turns into almost something unrecognizable to the original. That’s not quite what’s happened to Jack and the Beanstalk, but this definitely isn’t the tale you grew up with.
Think Lord of the Rings (John Ottman’s score is embarrassingly similar) and you’ll start to get the direction the tale is going in. Jack (Hoult) finds himself selling the family horse in the kingdom whenhe accidentally defends the honor of the kingdom’s princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Eventually he trades a monk the horse for some magic beans. It’s a bit more complicated than that, however, for the magic beans were previously in the possession of the evil Roderick (Stanely Tucci) who wanted to use them to grow a beanstalk to the world of the giants where he would take control of them using a magical crown. Things don’t go as planned thanks to Jack getting the beans and eventually the princess gets stuck in the world of the giants where Jack, Roderick and a knight named Elmont (Ewan McGregor) must go rescue her. This all culminates in a giant (pun intended) battle at the end of the film between mankind and giants.
To be clear, this film is dumb throughout, especially in its sense of humor. The plot is paper thin and mostly just used to create excuses for action sequences with giants. There’s also a lot of jokes about snot and bad hygiene (the giants are not clean folk). It’s seriously about as stark as you can get when it comes to complexity, but considering it’s based on a fairy tale that might just be a good thing. Here’s a story where the bad guys are bad guys, the good guy is good and really nothing else much happens. If you’re not demanding then it definitely fits the bill.
Since the story is about as basic as white bread they fill a lot of it with giants doing giant things. This works sometimes and at other times just feels dumb. There’s obviously a lot of CGI going on here, and it’s all up to snuff, but at points you start missing actual actors on actual sets. The action is perfectly decent as well, as Singer keeps things moving along at a fun clip and has had plenty of time to hone his “big moment” skills thanks to his previous blockbuster work. Everything in the movie is entirely competent and thanks to that it makes a dumb movie into a fun one. There’s nothing truly amazing about anything the film does, but what it does it does well enough.
Part of this is in thanks to the cast who clearly decided that hamming it up would be far better than taking this ridiculousness seriously. Tucci and McGregor are especially campy, almost openly winking at the audience with their performances. It makes the movie far better since it often seems to be laughing at itself, which the audience is already doing. Of course a knowing nod doesn’t excuse a bad movie, and this in no way elevates Jack the Giant Slayer into being a thoroughly enjoyable film, but it definitely keeps it out of the pits of groan worthy suckiness.
This isn’t a film to hate because it’s too un-affecting to really generate that kind of feeling. Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t poorly made or directed and the simple screenplay keeps it from getting overwrought or too complicated. There are definitely worse things than a movie that’s just a bit of fun without doing anything special. Of course, there are definitely much better things too.