Jack the Giant Slayer seems like a stretch, a bit too much expected from an old fairy tale. Luckily, the film delivers a lot of fun action and some surprisingly interesting characterizations, thus making it a fun time at the movies.
Sadly, the too-rampant CGI decreases that fun.
Here’s a trailer:
Released March 1, 2013
Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney, and David Dobkin
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Eleanor Tomlinson, Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, and Warwick Davis
* * * * *
Jack (Hoult) grew up hearing legends about giants that live far up in the clouds, but that they were repelled generations ago after they ruled humans for a time. When Roderick (Tucci), the chief adviser to King Brahmwell (McShane) hatches a plan to use a powerful magical item that will enable him to control the giants and use them to rule the world, Jack gets caught up in the plan through a mixture of naive bravery and chance.
Part of the chance is that Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson) craves exposure to the outside world and she runs away, coming upon Jack’s home. Another part of the chance is that Jack, not long before, recently encountered a monk who was trying to keep another magical item, some beans, from being used by evil powers. Yet another part of that chance is that it’s raining this night.
Jack’s courage came during his first inadvertent encounter with the princess, when he stands up to some people threatening her before being outshone by the king’s chief guard Elmont (McGregor).
Through a series of events, the beans sprout, carrying the princess to the land beyond the clouds to the domain of the giants. Roderick is pleased and does his best to get control of them, while at the same time Elmont ends up with Roderick and Jack and two others, Crawe (Marsan) and Wicke (Bremner), at the top of the beanstalk to try to find the princess.
There they encounter the entirely CGI giants and things hit the fan. This movie is not afraid to kill people off, which works entirely in its favor.
Much heroism is required and most of the characters have a surprising arc, some of which require extreme bravery and determination. All of this leads to at least two major showdowns, the first of which provides an opportunity for an unexpected twist.
Jack the Giant Slayer has a lot going for it. First off, the large cadre of writers showed no fear in trying some risky plot turns, killing of major characters in order to reveal other, more important characters behind them. Secondly, the dialogue is very nicely crafted, helping these fantastical characters have a grounding in reality and offering a lot of very clever humor. Ewan McGregor particularly seems to enjoy his apparently foppish but altogether surprising role. The fact is that Roderick is almost the primary hero of this story.
A second major thing going for Jack the Giant Slayer is that it is surprisingly well cast, for the most part. Nick Hoult as the lead is great. This kid delivers in every moment: comedy, heartfelt emotion, intensity– he’s very good. Tomlinson as the princess also does a nice job, although doesn’t hit it out of the park in any way. McGregor takes great joy in his role, finding ways to expand on his character’s vanity while remaining an overall good person who wants to save his kingdom. Tucci chews scenery and could have tried a little harder.
The movie also looks very good, with one very serious exception. The set pieces are great and the action is all kinds of fun. The problem is the giants. They are entirely CGI. What this means is that the animators built digital skeletons, overlaid digital muscle and skin, and then did their best to approximate humanoid expression and movement. But it falls a little short, meaning that the movement of the giants is exaggerated and their expressions are a little odd and they just aren’t convincing.
Why did the filmmakers decide to use humans for the giants? Certainly CGI is good enough to make that look good, as we saw in Lord of the Rings.
But despite the jarring giants, Jack the Giant Slayer provides a couple of hours of lighthearted, heroic entertainment. It’s a summer blockbuster that came out before summer, which was probably good since it had more time to gain an audience. This is a good movie.
Content warnings: Only a little salty language, all kinds of imaginative but fantastical action and some violence. Suggested dismemberment.
Writing: 4.5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 4
Go slay your own giants by sharing this review. Go on, you don’t need magic beans.