Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/JackTheGiantSlayerMovie
Opening Day: 28 February 2013
Synopsis: "Jack the Giant Slayer" tells the story of an ancient war that is reignited when a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants. Unleashed on the Earth for the first time in centuries, the giants strive to reclaim the land they once lost, forcing the young man, Jack, into the battle of his life to stop them. Fighting for a kingdom, its people, and the love of a brave princess, he comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend—and gets the chance to become a legend himself.
Little in Bryan Singer’s filmography suggests that he would jump on the bandwagon of Hollywood’s current obsession with fairy tales (think ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Red Riding Hood’, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ and the most recent ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’) but here we are with the latest big-budget spin on the classic tale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ directed by the man himself. Frankly, after seeing the movie, it still isn’t clear to us what prompted him to take on this straightforward (or simplistic, if you compare it against Singer’s other works) fantasy of humans against giants – never mind that it is clean light-hearted fun for the whole family.
Indeed, while it does attempt a revisionist telling of the story of a poor farmer’s boy named Jack who receives some magic beans from an old man and uses them to grow a beanstalk tall enough to steal from a giant living in a land beyond the clouds, there is nothing particularly inventive or imaginative about Singer’s version. Essentially, there is still a poor farmer’s boy named Jack, he is still responsible for the magic beans that grow into the gargantuan beanstalk, and there is still a land in the clouds lived by giants – the only substantially different thing about this adaptation is that the humans and the giants were once locked in an ancient war, and Jack’s beanstalk provides the conduit and the catalyst through and by which the war is reignited.
Oh, and to make it more appealing to the female sex of the teenage crowd at which this is targeted, Jack gets to fall in love with none other than the princess of the kingdom, Isabelle, who also serves as his companion on this magical adventure. Just as you can be sure that Jack will save the day and win the fair maiden’s heart, so too will you be left without a doubt about the nature of the characters in the movie. Right from the start, it is established without so much as a hint of ambiguity later on just who is good and who is bad – the former belonging to Jack, Isabelle, her father King Brahmwell and his loyal guard Elmont; while the latter describing the two-headed leader of the Giants General Fallon as well as the King’s conniving aide Roderick.
As is the characters so is the story, the narrative unfolding as predictably as it gets. Instead of riches, Jack goes up the beanstalk in search of Isabelle, who is depicted at the start to be disgruntled with her life of royalty and her impending nuptials – arranged by her father the King no less – to Roderick. Needless to say, she gets captured by Fallon, which gives Jack the chance to rescue her, and then play the hero once more in a final climactic battle to be waged on King Brahmwell’s castle between humans and giants. Yes, the plotting is as basic and unfussy as it gets, which leads us to wonder why it would take three screenwriters – Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney – and two credited story writers – Lemke and David Dobkin – to work it out.
Still, perhaps that austerity is intended to give Singer more room to exercise his creative imagination, which thankfully is as exceptional as it used to be. Keeping exposition to a minimum, Singer opts instead to send his audience on a thrill ride, and to his credit, he succeeds tremendously. Despite never letting up after the first fifteen minutes, the non-stop action never gets repetitive or numbing; instead, there is dexterity to the way Singer paces the movie or for that matter each individual sequence that allows his movie to be both punchy and engrossing – even though his maiden outing at performance capture in what is meant to be a seamless blend together with live-action and CG could do with more polish.
That the movie – despite its simple plot and even simpler characters – proves to be that engaging is entirely Singer’s credit, and the relentless action seems almost like a message to detractors of his earlier ‘Superman Returns’ that he can very well direct an all-out action movie. Still, there is no pretension to be found here (in spite of boasting Ian McKellen as its narrator, it knows better than to try to be the next ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’) and that quality makes it easier for audiences to accept the movie on its terms – as a light, playful and jaunty old-school fantasy adventure.
It is on that note that the mostly British cast Singer has assembled have taken to their roles. In the titular role is Nicholas Hoult, who makes a likeable, charismatic and surprisingly down-to-earth hero. There is a certain allure about his co-star Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays Isabelle, and the two share a warm easy-going rapport that brings a cheerful verve to the movie. Of their co-stars, Ewan MacGregor stands out in particular in the role of Elmont, playing it with a delightful mix of charm and good comedic timing; but Bill Nighy, recognizable only by his voice as Fallon, is wasted in a rudimentary role made worse by performance capture.
In the same way, one could say that the same about Bryan Singer’s involvement with this movie, an A-list director capable and indeed adept at juggling much more complex subject matters in his films slumming away in an at-best B-grade family movie. Yet undemanding though it may be, ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ is still an engaging and entertaining thrill-a-minute ride that affirms Singer’s ability to construct blockbuster thrills on a large canvas. It may be a slight entry in Singer’s filmography, but it is still a solid one – so if you need to, take this as his warmup before he returns to edgier and certainly more ‘X-citing’ stuff next summer.
(As straightforward and uncomplicated as it gets, this mildly revisionist retelling of the classic tale is still a good old-fashioned blend of thrills and laughs)
Review by Gabriel Chong