Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: "Jack the Giant Slayer"

Well, I can't say that I went into this thing with high hopes but I felt that with Bryan Singer at the helm it at least wouldn't be terrible.  I thought if I could get into the adventure of it all my brain might be able to rest for a bit and I could simply enjoy the exhilaration of a movie I don't need to think about.

Well I tried.

 The story itself is fairly simple and very familiar: a young boy is sent out to trade the family cow for some money and food as it's the last thing that he and his mother have left on their ailing farm.  He ends up trading the cow for a handful of beans he's told are magical and comes home with them, only to be yelled at and sent to bed without supper.  The beans (which are thrown out the window during the fight) grow overnight and when Jack climbs up the beanstalk he discovers a world of giants and their riches.  He promptly steals from them.  When he's discovered and the giant tries to follow him down the beanstalk he calls out to his mother for an axe and they chop down the beanstalk, killing the giant.

Now Jack the Giant Slayer also rolls the tale of Jack the Giant Killer into the mix, keeping some elements of both tales and essentially making Jack a smart but slightly bumbling boy who has magical beans forced upon him and rises to the challenge once he meets the king's daughter Isabelle.  While I don't have any problem with switching up the mythology, I would have liked to have seen them play on the expectations here a little.  When we know what we think should happen or be true of these characters it's often entertaining to see how things have been twisted and tweaked to heighten the tension.  In this case, none of the story choices seem to have been made to further characterization or make the story more palpable, rather they've been made to satisfy the need for special effects.

The film opens with the rather tired device of telling two children a story (the myth of the giants to be precise) which is fine except that in an effort to demonstrate how Jack and Isabelle are destined to be together, the director cuts back and forth between Jack and Isabelle's parents reading them the same story so many times I nearly had motion sickness.  Okay, we get it, one cut would have been enough.  Not to mention that while they're being told this story we get a repeat of the worst device used in any of the Harry Potter movies: the computer animated storyboards with lead actor voice over.  Ugh.

Now that we've established that they're fated and drawn to each other surely we're in for some steaminess and sultry staring from our leads?  Nope.  For a guy who smouldered his way through the first season of BBC's Skins and made me wish there was a love scene in The Single Man, Nicholas Hoult really did himself a disservice here. Hoult and fellow lead Eleanor Tomlinson's just can't seem to make the chemistry work, even when they're nose to nose on a moonlight beanstalk in the CGI sky.  Given that Jack's whole motivation for going up the beanstalk in the first place is Eleanor, it's somewhat unfortunate (and a little story-crushing) that there's no pizaz to their love story.

And let's take a moment to talk about Jack's leading lady here: while her childhood self makes the very valid point that women can have adventures too, Isabelle as an adult is continuously being rescued.  When they first meet, Isabelle has run off to see the world and gets cornered by a bunch of rowdy common folk.  When Jack steps in to defend her she immediately steps back and straight into the waiting arms of her guardsmen (lead by a well cast Ewan McGregor, doing the most fantastically obnoxious English accent).  When she leaves home a second time she gets caught in the rain and ends up in Jack's house, unable to continue without his help and shelter.  This also proves to be her undoing as the rain causes the beans (secretly lying under the house) to grow, taking Isabelle and the farmhouse with them.  Whoops.  And while [spoiler alert] she does eventually get rescued by McGregor and Hoult who come up the beanstalk after her, she's just waiting in a cage when they get there, having made no attempt to escape on her own.

While there are many problems with this one the ultimate offense is in its pedigree as with all these talented actors (Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, & Ewan McGregor) Bryan Singer is not able to pull together a passable film.  It doesn't inspire confidence in me about X-Men: Days of Future Past .

My rating: McGregor's accent is so pitch perfect that I'm going to give this a 2 out of 4.

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