Mark Reviews Movies

Jack the Giant Slayer


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Elanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, the voice of Bill Nighy

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 3/1/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 6, 2013

The giants of Jack the Giant Slayer are movie monsters of the old-fashioned variety, brought to life with newfangled technology. They are without mercy or remorse. While they have the capacity for speech, they operate mainly on instinct—that instinct being destruction and a taste for human flesh and bone. Any higher-function thinking they may possess is set on one thing: revenge against humanity for having the gall to stop their reign of terror during a time long ago.

They are massive in stature, able to hold a fully grown man in a single hand and bring that man toward their gaping maws without any kind of struggle. If they enjoy the taste of human beings, they certainly don't savor it in battle; many a warrior finds himself staring into one of the giants' disgusting mouth (We get a long look at their lack of dental hygiene in one shot where the camera gives one of the monsters an upper GI) before his head is gone in a snap and the remainder of his body is unceremoniously tossed aside. One can forget about using any kind of human-sized weapon against them; it leaves barely a scratch.

Yes, these are nasty, brutal, and seemingly unstoppable creatures; their presence reminds us of the influence a good villain can have over a tale, especially one that makes some familiar changes to the already familiar story of "Jack and the Beanstalk." Very little of the original tale remains, save for the name of the hero, a handful of magic beans, and, of course, the gigantic stem of the plant that grows from those beans and reaches to a secret land hidden high in the sky. The adjustments include star-crossed love, a megalomaniacal bad guy, a giant-controlling crown, and a screenplay full of lots of obvious word play. In other words, it's a very good thing the giants are as effectively villainous as they are; otherwise, the movie, for the most part, would be a predictable, uninspired affair.

After a prologue that details the story's mythology (meant to look like a storybook but coming across like a rough draft of animation), the movie picks up with Jack (Nicholas Hoult), living on a farm with his uncle (Christopher Fairbank) and heading into the kingdom of Cloister to sell a horse and cart. He meets Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) by attempting to defend her against a trio of rough customers at play. He's instantly smitten with the young woman. While trying to sell the horse, a monk offers him a packet of magic beans—sacred relics from the story of the prologue—for the horse so that he may escape the treacherous Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who is engaged to Isabelle and has diabolical plans.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Isabelle's father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) tries to convince his daughter to accept her fate and stop sneaking away on little adventures. She immediately takes her horse and flees into the dark and stormy night. Isabelle arrives at Jack's farm seeking shelter, and after one of the beans drops through a floorboard, the entire cottage becomes tangled up in the growing beanstalk. Isabelle, trapped in the house, disappears into the clouds, and the king orders his best men, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor), to attempt to recover her. Roderick and Jack volunteer, as well.

The rescue party arrives on a floating island, and after some backstabbing by Roderick and his murderously loyal assistant Wicke (Ewen Bremner), Jack and his comrades meet their first giant. One of the reasons these beasts work is in the way screenwriters Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney establish in this first encounter how ineffective our heroes are against them. Upon spotting Crawe (Eddie Marsan), one of the king's guard, the giant allows the puny mortal to sprint for a few seconds before taking three steps and grabbing him. Another scene—after Roderick takes control of the giants and lays out his plan to conquer Cloister and then the world—watches Jack try to save Isabelle and Elmont from a giant chef with awful sanitary practices and determined to skewer and bake Elmont alive before dicing Isabelle.

The giants, led by the two-headed Fallon (voice of Bill Nighy), do not have much to do after this until the climactic showdown between the people of Cloister and the army of giants in a rousing siege on the castle, leaving far too much time for the leaden human characters and the inconsistent tones of their various stories to take focus (The actors, to their individual credit but collective fault, are completely sincere). We're never rooting against them, but it's safe to say we might be cheering for the giants in the more juvenile part of our brain.

There's some kind of accomplishment in that. Parts of Jack the Giant Slayer took me back to my childhood, when I would devour old monster movies on video, wondering when they would just stop the people from talking and finally get back to the monsters. Of course, the discovery of fast-forwarding helped, and this is the kind of movie that such a practice might work wonders.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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