Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Snow White (and the Huntsman), Hansel & Gretel (Witch Hunters), and now Jack the Giant Slayer (sans Bean Stalk) – having finally viewed the latter I have officially completed the recent trifecta of fairy tales turned Hollywood action vehicles.  And suddenly my confidence in director Bryan Singer’s next X-Men is considerably shaken.  And this isn’t a case of high expectations either as I went into Jack the Giant Slayer with very little hope.  While box office receipts aren’t the be-all-end-all indicators of quality filmmaking, a $65M domestic take against a reported $195M budget (which was really more like $235M) will temper any and all hype surrounding a movie.  So where did this dud (one in a extended string of underwhelming WB theatrical releases) go wrong?

It wasn’t necessarily the premise.  Unlike some of its fellow fairy tale adaptations, the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk would seem to lend itself nicely to an action treatment without too much cajoling.  The mythical beans, a magical crown, nefarious giants, a princess, and the potential for some large-scale battle scenes are elements that could easily provide a decent foundation for an epic fantasy film in the vein of so many other classics.  And with Bryan Singer at the helm - no newcomer to the action genre, the table seemed set for a raucous ride.

Where I believe the film first goes awry is with the tone.  There’s a fine line between catering to a young adult audience and then to a more mature one, and it so rarely works when a script tries to toe that line.  There are moments in this film when the characters dialogue and actions seem to pander to youthful viewers and that in turn greatly diminishes its credibility with the older viewers.  So when those characters enter grave moments in which the stakes are raised and consequences dire, those scenes fail to carry the weight that they should.  This proves true even when characters of varying significance meet their demise.

The second major issue plaguing this film is most definitely the CG.  With a budget hovering around the $200M mark, it’s hard to fathom that the effects could be so shoddy, but that’s precisely what they are.  From start to finish, the CG appears second rate and this is incredibly crippling for a film that is set in a fantasy world with an army of computer-generated giants as the chief antagonists.  Needless to say, that any “willing suspension of disbelief” is impossible to achieve while watching this film when the visuals keep reminding you that none of it is real.

The third major issue with the film surprisingly has to do with the work of the cast.  On paper, a roster that features Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, and Nicholas Hoult would seem very impressive.  Unfortunately, things never come together for this ensemble.  Hoult as Jack is merely satisfactory, and not nearly dynamic enough to carry a film of this scale.  McGregor’s performance as Elmont, the head of the royal guards, is completely over-the-top.  Clearly in this for the paycheck and loathing himself for it, McGregor turns in the kind of performance we haven’t seen since the days of Star Wars Episode II.  As for the usually interesting Stanley Tucci and intense Ian McShane, to say that they sleepwalked through the film would be an understatement.  The words “bag job” would probably be a more accurate description.

The lone bright spot in the cast has to be Eleanor Tomlinson as Princess Isabelle.  I have never noticed her work before and am not in a rush to see more, but she was credible and did her best with very little support from her cast mates.  Regardless, she could have turned in an Oscar winning performance and it would have been for naught in a film such as this one that was plagued with so many issues.

I would have to concur then with all the people who decided not to watch this move in the cinema (and there were many of them).  There’s just so little to truly like about Jack the Giant Slayer and because of this, I don’t think you should waste your time renting it.  There is a plethora of action movies out there in the home entertainment sphere that may not be great films but are exponentially more entertaining than this title.  If you happen to catch this movie on television and your only other viewing option is MTV’s Teen Mom, then I would suggest you give it a look.  Otherwise take a pass.  Going forward, here’s hoping Bryan Singer does a better job with his re-entry in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Standout Performance:  Eleanor Tomlinson, for not being as bad as the rest of her cast mates.


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