It’s been long overdue, but it’s time for me to write my review on Jack the Giant Slayer. Putting aside the overwhelming sidestep from biology in that a bean can grow into a beanstalk literally in front of your eyes, because as my friends told me the more astounding thing to prove scientifically is how there is another kingdom in the skies complete with it’s own functioning ecosystem and race of giant homo sapiens, Jack the Giant Slayer wasn’t too bad of a movie. I would say there are spoilers, but there really aren’t, especially if you just watch the trailer posted below.
Directed by Bryan Singer of the X-Men franchise, I expected Jack the Giant Slayer (or as I will call it from now on, “Jack”) to be something of a mix of The Brothers Grimm and perhaps Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I totally dig the fairytale reboots that people are doing, because I adore fairytales and I love the modern approach that can be taken, especially since for a long time it was only Cinderella adaptations and I have to say I was getting bored with it as much as I love Ever After and Ella Enchanted. With “Jack” the game is different, I am not sure really what it is, but I can tell you what it’s not. It’s no where as gimmicky as The Brothers Grimm was, definitely not as violent as Hansel and Gretel, it’s got some of the humor of Ella Enchanted but not with any of the 21st century-based jokes, and it’s not the serious love story that Ever After is (and there’s no Da Vinci in his boat shoes). Now the exact origins of the fairytale is unknown, and it did not herald from fairytale monopolists like Hans Christian Anderson or the Grimms, so it does not possess the same type of fable quality, and the “lesson learning” part has always been kind of dim. In the end of the story, Jack gets what he wants after outsmarting people, bullying them, and not listening to his mother. But since the movie is free from such parental finger wagging, it actually leaves a better taste in the mouth than certain movies trying to do so.
The classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk has many elements of the story of a modern fairy tale. Highly developed side characters, multiple villains, and an obligatory love story. “Jack” did great on two out of three of those. Where did it falter? The love story. I’m about the sappiest person west of the Mississippi, and not even I felt much for the coupling of Isabelle and Jack. Was it cute? Sure. But ultimately nothing made me care about the pairing. Eleanor Tomlinson plays a rather flat princess character who embodies the typical over protected teenager, wanting nothing more than to be unleashed of her chains. In typical royal fashion she’s been hitched in an arranged marriage by her father, Ian McShane, to a courtier by the name of Roderick, Stanley Tucci. Ian McShane plays a perfect king figure, reminding us all of his time in short-lived NBC show Kings where he played the king of a fictional monarchical America. He’s a loving father, though often misunderstands his daughter. It’s almost immediately apparent that Roderick is a slimier character than he appears, he’s even got a needle-thin lackey who throws some of the punchlines to make us laugh. Implementing him as the power hungry man almost seems a little too obvious, but it’s a fairytale and they are meant to be obvious, so we take it in stride.
So in attempts to escape the holds of royal obligation, Isabelle sneaks off into the city and happens to bump into our boy Jack, Nicholas Hoult, at the local peasant theater where they are putting on a rendition of how the giants were defeated. Jack is the typical farm boy that we know, off to sell his horse for money for the family farm, only to inevitably get beans in return. In the process of them meeting, Jack manages to make a fool of himself and we see Isabelle whisked away by the elite royal guards, specifically Elmont, Ewan McGregor and his men. After being embarrassed by that encounter, Jack furthers his bad day by basically getting horse mugged by a monk and getting the magic beans foisted upon him. He’s not told what they are or what they do, but Jack is a believer in fairytales and takes the monk’s word to be fact (plus he’s dressed like a monk, whose not going to trust that).
Well after a firm yelling at by his uncle for bringing back magic beans, the uncle sets off for the night leaving Jack home, making a point to throwing the beans to the floor. Now the one thing the monk had told Jack was to never let the beans touch water, and those nasty things just happened to slip through the cracks in the floor and onto the nice loamy dirt where a thunderstorm was about to douse the land. So the inevitable happens, Isabelle, in the process of running away, seeks shelter in Jack’s home, the two have a moment where they remember each other, but it’s all interrupted when the bean below them touches water and explodes in vines, literally taking the house with them. Ultimately Isabelle is separated from Jack, who wakes up in the morning to the elite royal guard in his face and a giant beanstalk at his back.
The team to rescue the princess formulates, all the while people clamor around the beanstalk like it’s the Renaissance Fair and suspicions as to where the stalk leads is all around. Jack, being the one who started all of this is a part of the team with Elmont and his guards, but somehow Roderick ropes himself in, as well, under the pretense of rescuing his betrothed. It’s quickly evident that the only thing he’s saving is the crown for himself. The movie moves quickly through the plot and it goes completely off of the source material after this point. The giants, a race that has literally been enslaved for years in their lofty home, wish only to be freed, but without the crown that controls them it is impossible. Massive battles ensue, Roderick is eventually and obviously ousted by the leader of the Giants, a two-headed slightly offensive giant named Fallon, voiced by Bill Nighy (which I heard ad Davy Jones).
The characterization of the Giants is never gentle on them. I was expecting to sympathize or even empathize with them, but in the end it was pretty obvious why they needed to be controlled and sent back to their little sky world until we could figure out a more permanent solution. They are unlikable and even Fallon, who seems to display much more intelligent thought than the others, is conniving and power hungry. The stars of the movie are Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor. Both shining past their roles as simple characters and making much more of it. Elmont’s character is the most believable leader of guards, he’s loyal to his men, to his king, and to his cause. He’s charming and kind, but serious and firm with his decisions. Hoult makes another large step for himself, and I’m just happy that he was able to step out of the UK Skins and About a Boy with two huge films for 2013.
The ending had one of those “this is still relevant” signs waving in the distance, with it’s gesture that the powerful crown that can control the giants was forged into the royal crown of England/Albion that is now stored in the Tower of London. My final grade on this is a B-. It was entertaining, with some great characters, but ultimately forgettable. It was a film that was shadowed by other box office giants and ended up getting a mild return from the audiences. Anyways, I’m glad Singer is done with this so he can work on X-Men: Days of Future Past.