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Review: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Premise: A retelling of the folktale “Jack and the Beanstalk.” A poor farmer named Jack (Nicholas Hoult) comes into possession of magic seeds that grow into a giant beanstalk that extends into a land of giants. When the giants capture a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), Jack and the king’s men must rescue her.

What Works: Jack the Giant Slayer is well cast. Nicholas Hoult, who has previously been seen as Beast in X-Men: First Class and as the lead zombie in Warm Bodies, is cast as the title character and he is a promising actor. Although this script does not give him much to do Hoult does carry his scenes and he holds the camera’s attention. The supporting roles also have several strong casting choices including Ian McShane as the king, Ewan McGregor as the head of the royal guard, and Stanley Tucci as the king’s corrupt consul. The parts are thinly written but the actors do what they can to bring a little bit of humor and humanity to the picture. 

What Doesn’t: Jack the Giant Slayer is yet another attempt to reimagine a classic fairytale, as was done in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Those films were flawed but they did manage to bring a distinctly new vision to an old story. The overriding problem with Jack the Giant Slayer is how unremarkable it is. There is no pitch here, no controlling idea or coherent aesthetic vision. The filmmakers don’t reinvent the classic fairytale; they rehash it and inflate it to fill a feature length. The film’s problems begin with its script. A straight, unironic take on “Jack and the Beanstalk” might have worked but this film fails to tell a satisfying story. Basic cinematic storytelling requires characters be introduced, established, and characterized. Audiences invest in a narrative largely through the people on screen; engaging characters are key to compelling viewers to care about the outcome of a story. The filmmakers of Jack the Giant Slayer fail to do this and so the audience is stuck watching anonymous people climbing a computer generated plant, which is about as interesting as a television commercial and it holds interest for about as long. There is little story structure here. Fantasy movies and fairytales generally adhere to a classic three-act structure. They are not required to do so, but stories must have some kind of underlying construction that puts something at stake, escalates the conflict, and leads to a climax. Jack the Giant Slayer is missing much of that structure. There is no purpose to anything on screen. No one is fighting for anything meaningful and the dearth of a mission combined with the absence of compelling characters results in a film that is empty and boring. Jack the Giant Slayer is also problematic in its visual style. The special effects of this movie are well done, especially the computer generated performances of the giants, but the picture looks like every other fantasy movie of the last decade. Jack the Giant Slayer is especially compromised in its presentation of violence. There are big battle scenes and the giants eat people alive but the filmmakers try to sanitize the action for a family audience by clumsily editing around it. Whatever the flaws of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters or even Mirror Mirror, those films at least had a distinctive look. The special effects, action scenes, and art direction of Jack the Giant Slayer are devoid of style and everything about it is generic.

Bottom Line: Jack the Giant Slayer is an underwhelming experience. Like last year’s John Carter, it is a movie that is instantly forgettable because it is indistinguishable from so many other fantasy movies.

Episode: #430 (March 10, 2013)