Jack the Giant Slayer is like an expensive remake of The Brothers Grimm, except more pricey and less interesting. Director Bryan Singer has always been a reliable director, but as is sometimes the case with Terry Gilliam the audience for his latest work seems unclear. It’s too goofy for most adults, not energetic enough for kids and instead exists as a tonally bizarre, lethargically paced oddity. It does manage the occasional moments of light-hearted entertainment, but they’re few and far between resulting in a strange and surprising misfire since on paper Jack’s journey sounds like a sure thing of a popcorn movie.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a good ‘ol farm boy who dreams of adventure, but the only ones he knows of exist above the clouds with the violent mythical giants who filled the stories of his childhood. Now 18 and living with his cranky exposition-heavy uncle, Jack finally embarks on one of those high-flying expeditions. He fist visits the big city and stumbles upon both the princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and a monk who gives him “beans which will change the world,” a line spoken with the utmost seriousness.
Jack doesn’t think much of his day in the city, but when the princess shows up at his uncle’s house and a conveniently timed storm causes the magical beans to sprout an epic bean stock he finds himself chasing both the princess and the house up into the land of giants. Jack embarks on a mission to save Isabelle with a boy band-looking Ewan McGregor, an all too briefly seen Eddie Marsan, and the wonderful Stanley Tucci and Ewen Bremner as two conniving tricksters.
Tucci and Bremner’s appearance breathes life into the film, but it’s a short-lived promise. While some actors appear unsure of the picture’s tone these two get it. They’re incredibly charming goofs, both the actors and the characters, but the film makes a gigantic mistake by sidelining them way too early.
Despite scenes of battling giants, something there isn’t enough of, the highlight is seeing actors like Tucci, Bremner, Marsan, and occasionally McGregor bouncing off each other. They develop an entertaining rapport after a shaky start, but once the giants come into the picture, led by Bill Nighy, the movie’s momentum inexplicably slows down some.
Part of the problem is Singer’s approach to action. He’s never at the top of his game with grand set pieces, and while the opening of X2, the plane sequence in Superman Returns and the bombing of Hitler’s bunker in Valkyrie are engrossing action sequences it’s because of their finely handled simplicity. Here though, when the cartoon giants are stomping around, throwing trees, eating heads and so forth, the action just feels completely inert.
They’re a reminder that Singer isn’t really much of a mega-blockbuster director. His best film remains The Usual Suspects, a character-driven thriller, and when he went back to that world with frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) the result was the entertaining and simplistic Valkyrie. He appears more comfortable in the territory of people than he does in the realm of giants, and it’s made clear by a final battle that ends all too soon and lacks a spectacular punch.
Jack the Giant Slayer overall is devoid of the grand adventure one would expect from a movie with giants. With Singer, this cast, and McQuarrie’s hand in the script, this should have been more, and there are times where Singer almost gets there, but it’s all in the film’s more comedic, character-driven moments. When a pigs-in-a-blanket gag is more satisfying than chaotic, stumbling giants you know the director should aim his sights a bit closer to Earth.
The Uspide: A golden reaction shot from Stanely Tucci; the introduction to the giants is outstanding; Ewan McGregor’s hair; the spin on the Bad Hat Harry logo
The Downside: A exposition filled, stilted first act; for a 200 million dollar movie, there isn’t much scope to gaze at; dumps the most entertaining characters early on; leisurely paced; awkward tonal shifts; flat and murky 3D
On The Side: Jack the Giant Slayer is also known as Jack the Company Killer to some people…