Jack the Giant Slayer
Bryan Singer // 2013 // 114 mins
The re-imagined fairytale film is a beast that refuses to back down and Jack and the Beanstalk is the latest to have been given a live-action makeover. Jack the Giant Slayer reinterprets the story of Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a farm boy who acquires some ancient magical beans while trying to sell his horse. That night, while giving shelter to Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), one of the beans comes into contact with water and causes a gigantic beanstalk to sprout from the foundations of Jacks house and up towards Gantua - a land of Giants high above the clouds - taking Jack's home and Isabelle up with it. Jack offers his services to the King and, along with a group of the kingdom's best men, ventures up to Gantua to rescue the princess and prevent the Giants from taking revenge on the royal bloodline that banished them.
A key ingredient for a successful fairytale retelling is to take the familiar story and present it in a fresh and unique way. Jack and the Beanstalk was never the most impressive fairytale and despite stretching out the story to an excessive runtime that is just shy of two hours, this interpretation really doesn't make the story any more exciting. The film uses an ugly animated sequence to paint a tense history between the human and giant worlds, but it's all extremely clichéd and shallow, simply providing a basic motive for the giants to mindlessly attack the kingdom. In fact almost every aspect of the narrative is fairly shallow, from the uninspired romance between Jack and Isabelle to the treachery of Stanley Tucci's lazily constructed villain, Roderick. This is a paint-by-numbers fantasy adventure that conforms to any trope of the genre you can conceive of and Bryan Singers direction so nothing to elevate the screenplay, creating little momentum and even less payoff.
Adding yet another high-profile title to his growing collection Nicholas Hoult leads the film as the unlikely hero to moderate success, but he simply isn't given a whole lot of personality by the films writers. Hoult meanders through a series lacklustre action sequences and is disappointingly not given material that plays up the charm or charisma he is capable of providing. Even less exciting is Eleanor Tomlinson as Isabelle, who fills her spot as 'generic attractive female' and does nothing to inspire us into thinking that she is more than this. Not surprisingly then, the insultingly underwritten romance between the pair falls flat. It doesn't so much fail, it just never really occurs and instead the film assumes that we know it will happen because that is what always happens. There is some real talent filling out the remainder of the cast, but these performances range from 'what were they thinking' (Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor) to 'what was the point' (Eddie Marsan, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy). Special mention should go to the supposed comedic stylings of Ewen Bremmer as Wicke whose 'funny man' character is unceremoniously bad in both writing and delivery.
Most disappointing of all is that the one area in which the film could have really excelled, the production design and visual effects, seems to have been treated with as little care as the plot and characters. A film that spends a good amount of time on a land that is hidden above the clouds and inhabited by primitive giants holds limitless potential for stunning character and environment design. Instead the creative team behind this film have opted for garish CGI giants that just look like bigger, uglier humans. There is nothing unique about these creations, they are stereotypically dumb, gross, nose-picking creatures that are not fearsome in the slightest. Nighy's General Fallon is the only giant that seems to have had any thought put into making his appearance somewhat interesting, but all this amounts to is him having a second head for no apparent reason. The only aspect of the visual design that succeeds are the beanstalks but even this CGI is hit and miss in how well it is executed.
I may just be a humourless cynic but I really could not find anything enjoyable about Jack the Giant Slayer. One-diemnsional characters that to not develop, a painfully simplistic plot that is badly paced and doesn't build at all and CGI that leaves a lot to be desired all make for an uninspired, unimpressive 'action-adventure'. I had very low expectations for this film and I was still disappointed.