An immense yawn of a movie, Jack the Giant Slayer lost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $130 million or so for Legendary Pictures and it’s not hard to see why. Directed by Bryan Singer and based on the classic fairy tales, this 2013 effects-based film is a superfluous mound of clichés, slovenly and insipid action scenes, cardboard characters, and dry storytelling.
Singer’s main interest with this picture appears to come from telling it as though it could “really” happen. He attempts to propose a world in which hulks are real, but the domain he crafts has little to do with any authenticity and is instead the charmed dominion of kings and princesses. It’s hard to take any ounce of Jack the Giant Slayer seriously, but it’s also hard to have any fun with it.
Nicholas Hoult, wearing pretty much the same clothes as his zombie character from Warm Bodies, stars as Jack. He is a poor farmer living with his uncle. One day, he takes to the town to sell a horse and falls in love with the princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). When a monk gives Jack some magic beans and the princess runs away only to end up luckily at his place, the farm boy finds himself in the middle of a huge adventure.
The magic beans come in contact with water and consequently shoot a beanstalk, taking the princess way, way up to who-knows-where. The king (Ian McShane) arrives and wants the princess saved, so Jack offers to go with a commission that includes the degenerate Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and the elite guardsman Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Up the beanstalk, the group unearths the world of the giants.
Jack the Giant Slayer suggests that the giants the group encounters are believed to be the stuff of legend only, but the big guys (and the colossi do appear to be entirely made up of males) make for prompt villains and must be eliminated. Of course, Lord Roderick has a plan to snatch control of the titans and use them as weapons for his own end.
The character of Roderick is a weird one, Tucci’s half-assed portrayal aside. On one hand, he is the definitive villain with designs on marrying the princess. On the other, he seems to lug a belief in magic beans and a realm of giants. The haste at which he moves his plan into action once discovering the giants actually are real is surprising.
These sorts of plot considerations are probably not meant to be analysed, which is probably for the best. If one were to give too much thought to Jack the Giant Slayer, one would come up awfully dissatisfied. In that respect, it’s perhaps best to focus on what motivates the characters and why the audience should care.
The prototypical boy-meets-princess scenario is well-travelled and Singer’s flick does little to breathe new life into it. On top of that, Jack the Giant Slayer has the shameful honour of presenting the princess as always needing to be liberated by men – this despite the fact that she contends that she is not some “fragile, helpless creature.”
Jack isn’t much better. It’s hard to buy Hoult as a lowly farmer, but the actor does at least try to insert some charm to the role. He doesn’t have a lot to work with, what with McGregor apparently incapable of deciding on an accent and Tomlinson grinding the scenery with clotheshorse cool.
Jack the Giant Slayer only has its effects to lean on – and those are monotonous too. Most of the more intricate scenes take place with some sort of obfuscating element, like rain or shadows or smoke, and the big battle sequence is kindly short but unluckily dull. And leaving out most of the blood and guts in scenes that clearly call for fierceness is poor form, even if Singer and Co. were desperate to reach a larger audience.
The bottom line is that Jack the Giant Slayer is a colossal dud. It lacks vitality, passion, adventure, suspense, humour, fun, and romance. It blunders frequently and never achieves what it sets out to do, settling instead for a predictably dreary, immaterial approach to its innately shabby material.