Teased at for the last year Bryan Singer, the driving force behind The Usual Suspects and X-Men franchise, reaches back in time and crafts a reimagined and visually stunning ride of an unlikely hero trying to find his purpose in this life.
To draw the audience in, the movie starts by providing a history lesson on the relationship between humanity and the “fearsome, giant race”, though sadly, without Ian McKellan’s powerful narrative. In an overt parallel, our two main characters—Jack and Princess Isabelle—are read the tale and how King Erik conquered the Giant threat. Both children are presented as dreamers, wanting something more than their lives (and future) appear to have planned. Fast forward ten years and the same wandering attitude they had as children bring them together for the first time when Jack visits the city to sell his uncle’s horse. It is a twist of fate (or conveniently plotted out narrative) that has them meeting for a second time and launching us into the heart of the tale.
The story that follows is simple and unoriginal. Isabelle wishes to get away from her responsibilities as princess and the arranged marriage to a conniving scum (Stanley Tucci’s Roderick). She takes shelter with Jack only to be pulled from his clutches by the unforeseen circumstance of magical beans getting wet and—Shazam—she’s gone, carried into the clouds by tremendous beanstalk. Brave knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor), who just happens to be sporting a not so subtle crush on our princess vows to his King (Ian McShane) that he will return Isabelle, safe as houses. Of course things don’t go so smoothly as death, betrayal and some fantastic effects and a surprise or two carries us to the climatic final battle for survival between man and giant.
The movie’s major attraction is the giants and they don’t disappoint. They are disgusting and terrifying as legend come to life. Director Bryan Singer spoke about using state of the art models to bring the giants to the big screen and he hits it out of the park. There’s a weight and depth to each uniquely crafted giant, which is the biggest reason this movie works as an entertainment vehicle. The disparity between giant and man is incredible and the former’s unwavering brutality as they snatch up helpless warriors and feast on them like Twix bars presents them as a true threat. And let’s not forget the other major character—the beanstalk itself. There was a pulsating vitality on the construct, almost as if it were alive. Viewing both giant and beanstalk in 3D IMAX heightened the presentation though it could have been better as so many scenes had the potential for a jaw dropping, in your face experience.
There were only a handful of occasions where suspension of disbelief was nigh impossible, particularly the tug-of-war battle between two dozen giants and sixty of the King’s men that drew a derisive chuckle from yours truly.
Most recently gracing the screen as R in last month’s Warm Bodies and Beast in 2011’s X-men: First Class, Nicholas Hoult is a
capable Jack, suffusing the role with his own naivety and enthusiastic flair. He shares a natural chemistry with his leading lady, relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson. Though there’s a decided lack of character development throughout, we’re given enough of a glimpse into what makes these two tick to overlook the cookie cutter supporting cast, though I will say there was something decidedly entertaining about Ewan McGregor’s over the top Elmont and Tucci’s one-note villain Roderick. Both are excellent actors and even when given such little material to work with, they both make it work.
It seems that, in this day and age, we clamor for deep-thought provoking movies and lambast those without “soul”. Admittedly, there is very little in Jack that I would deem groundbreaking or deep but I would contend that this movie does possess heart. It’s carried on the waves of dreamers like Jack and Isabelle whose actions and deeds prove that anything is possible to he—or she—who believes.
Make no mistake, save for the fantastic CGI, Jack the Giant Slayer will not win any awards for best picture, acting, or directing. What it will do, however, is provide movie goers with an alternative to the wonderful but series dramas such as Argo and Lincoln. It’s a fun Saturday afternoon ride the whole family can no doubt enjoy.
Just remind the kids to “ask not whence the thunder comes”…