Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

I really like Bryan Singer. He has made some entertaining films in his career and single-handedly made Hollywood superhero movies bankable after years of epic failures. However, the quality of his work has nosedived as of late and if he continues along this path it may never recover. I mean, Football Wives? Really?! At least he recognized this and signed on to direct the new X-Men movie before he slipped any further down the slope of mediocrity. Case in point – Jack the Giant Slayer.

Young Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given a sack of magical beans, and when he accidentally gets some wet they grow into a gigantic beanstalk that reaches high into the sky to the land of vicious and bloodthirsty giants who have waited for years for an opportunity to conquer the humans.
I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to make a feature length “Jack and the Beanstalk”, but if someone with the immense talent of Bryan Singer can’t make it even remotely entertaining that person should not be working in Hollywood to begin with. The flick is overly childish one minute and gruesomely violent the next, so there are radical tonal shifts which is never a good sign. It’s just a joyless affair and a little hard to sit through due to how mediocre and meandering it is. There is no high adventure feel, no real character development and a script that basically serves to show off some not-so cutting edge CGI. And when a movie is pulled from release (in mid-2012) so that it can be post-converted into 3D (also undergoing a name change from its original title, Jack the Giant Killer) and unceremoniously dumped into theaters in March 2013 (see G.I. Joe: Retaliation) it’s a clear sign to steer clear and see something else.

I like Nicholas Hoult as an actor. I have enjoyed all his recent films I’ve seen (X-Men: First Class, Warm Bodies) and he has a naturalistic way about him that allows me to more readily accept him in whatever part he is playing. That is not the case here because he is awkward, boring and not once did I believe he was taking the part of Jack seriously. It feels like the only reason he accepted the role was to work with Bryan Singer, but all Bryan Singer was interested in was the computer generated images. He shares zero chemistry with his romantic interest, Eleanor Tomlinson, and just feels out of place for the most part.
There are plenty of recognizable faces in the cast such as Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Ewen Bremner, Eddie Marsan, Warwick Davis and the voice of Bill Nighy as the leader of the giants. The sad thing is that they are given absolutely nothing to do once the CGI giants show up and that’s pretty sad. The only actor that looks like he gave a shit about his part was Ewan McGregor as Elmont, one of the King’s soldiers. He gives his character a likable personality and without him the movie would be a complete bust. Is it any surprise that McGregor ran circles around the rest of the cast? I mean, out of all the actors in the shitty Star Wars prequels he was the only one who kept his dignity intact. Dude’s awesome, even when he’s in a garbage flick like this.

The script by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney is dull, lacking any sort of grandeur or even a decent character to rally behind (if McGregor weren’t putting his all behind Elmont the character would have been a bust too). It takes its sweet time getting to the point of the story, and when the giants are introduced none of them are given any development and are just like the dwarves in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - they all look and act alike. The only reason I knew Fallon, voiced by Bill Nighy in the exact same manner in which he played Victor in Underworld and Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, was because he had a second head. I’m sure Bryan Singer had a say in what went down in the screenplay since McQuarrie, who wrote and directed last year’s Jack Reacher, is his longtime collaborator, so some of the blame falls on his shoulders as well.
My issue with Singer is that he feels like he’s asleep at the wheel. He doesn’t push his actors, his vision for the film is dated and cliché, the action is stale and taken out of any number of fantasy films (although the tossing of the flaming trees was a nice touch) and he goes for the cheese instead of the drama. The whole project feels like a big budget episode of Fairy Tale Theater. Shit, I was expecting there to be commercial breaks at some points. I was severely disappointed at every turn due to his poor choices behind the camera.

Since a lot of the focus of the film is on the CGI giants you’d expect that aspect to be one of the few highlights. Unfortunately they are not since they look overly cartoony and unmemorable in the extreme. The animation is like something you would have expected to see in the early 2000s after George Lucas pioneered the completely computer generated character with, gulp, Jar Jar Binks. Due to the ever changing tone of the film I couldn’t figure out if Singer was going for a storybook sort of look or not, but when you have a person being gutted by a sword one minute and a giant dying in a slapstick manner via bees it’s easy to get frustrated by all the contrasting styles on display.
Jack the Giant Slayer is a mess. It’s directionless and there is no fun to be had even though the source material screams entertainment value at every turn. Sadly it was in the wrong hands and the end result is crap. It would be a smart move to just wait until X-Men: Days of Future Past is released in the summer of 2014 to see what will (hopefully) be a return to form for the once legendary director who wowed jaded audiences everywhere with his out of the blue debut, The Usual Suspects. I long for the day when he wows me again.

1 out of 5

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