Fairy Tale fail
Films based on fairy tales have had a rough go of it recently. Neither of the two Snow White movies in 2012 lived up to expectations, and although Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters broke even at the box office, the critics savaged it.
Into this uneasy climate steps Jack the Giant Slayer, the first purely popcorn movie for director Bryan Singer since 2006’s Superman Returns. However, depending on what fairy tales you were read while growing up, you may or may not recognize the inspiration for this film.
Depending on what fairy tales you were read while growing up, you may or may not recognize the inspiration for Jack the Giant Slayer.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is still a farm boy who gets duped into selling a farm animal for a handful of so-called “magic” beans, only to find those beans, when exposed to water, erupt in a gigantic beanstalk that leads to a world of giants in the sky.
However, there are all sorts of different elements grafted onto that simple story, including a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) looking to escape an arranged marriage; a royal hanger-on (Stanley Tucci), who knows the secret behind those magic beans; and a heroic soldier (Ewan McGregor), who’ll stop at nothing to ensure his kingdom is protected.
Singer and the trio of screenwriters care little about establishing any kind of interesting background for these characters. In fact, those characters are barely introduced before we’re thrust headlong into the adventure up the beanstalk. That pattern holds for the rest of the film: We’re asked to care about the fates of certain people, but they’re often treated in a disposable manner by the filmmakers.
The giants, the purported villains of the film, are also handled strangely. They merely exist because the story dictates their presence; it fails to show why such enmity has been built up between them and humans.
Also, the filmmakers seem to want to make the giants both fearsome and laughable at the same time. In this PG-13 film, the giants eat humans as their preferred method of killing but then also act grotesquely for cheap laughs.
The film, naturally, is heavy with CGI, a hit-and-miss proposition. The beanstalk and the world in which the giants live all provide their moments of wonder, but the giants themselves are so cartoonish that it feels like they should have just made an animated film instead.
Acting-wise, the film mostly succeeds. Both Hoult and Tomlinson make for winning leads, although Hoult doesn’t come close to his recent work in Warm Bodies. Tucci, McGregor and Ian McShane, as King Brahmwell, all do well in their respective roles.
Jack the Giant Slayer is neither as action-packed as the title suggests nor as kid-friendly as the material on which it is based. As such, it lies in a sort of no-man’s land, just barely serving as passable entertainment.