“Jack the Giant Slayer” – Review by Daniel Rester

Jack the Giant Slayer poster for Daniel

Jack the Giant Slayer Review

by Daniel Rester

Apparently having “beanstalk” or “killer” in the title wasn’t good enough.

Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest Hollywood adaptation of a vintage fairy tale. This one comes from the simple tales “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” But this rendering is no small bedtime story. Instead, it is an epic swords-and-creatures film made on a (estimated) $190 million budget, overflowing with CGI and action. Oh, Hollywood, how you blow things out of proportion.

Slayer does keep the initial storyline in tact in the middle of things, with Jack (Nicholas Hoult) climbing a giant beanstalk and facing bone-crunching giants. In this version, however, Jack is an orphan who lives with his uncle as a commoner in the outskirts of a kingdom. One day Jack is at the market when a monk gives him magic beans to keep secure. Eventually a princess named Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) gets involved, and when the beans get wet and the beanstalk goes up, so does she. Then it is up to Jack and a group of others to rescue her. That group includes Elmont (Ewan McGregor), a leader of the king’s guard, and Roderick (Stanley Tucci), an adviser to King Brahmwell (Ian McShane). Roderick is supposed to marry Isabelle and eventually take over the kingdom, but he has bigger, more villainous plans.

Slayer is a big-budget summer movie with a March release date. There is a lot of talent behind it, including Bryan Singer (X-Men (2000), The Usual Suspects (1995)) in the director’s chair and Christopher McQuarrie (writer of Suspects) as one of three writers; it also features a cast full of stars. But Slayer isn’t an A-grade blockbuster, despite its ingredients. However, it does work in ways and entertains enough.

One of the things that works about Slayer is that it sets itself apart from many of the fairy tale adaptations as of late. While films like Alice in Wonderland (2010), Red Riding Hood (2011), and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) all had dark undertones and somewhat-gloomy looks at times, Slayer is more family-friendly as a whole. It does feature some violence that may be too intense for young children (the movie is PG-13), but the movie can be enjoyed by both adults and older kids – which is nice to find from something nowadays that isn’t an animated film.

The film also benefits from having top-notch effects. The set design, costumes, and CGI are all elaborate, making for a colorful and occasionally eye-popping experience. The 3D is hit-and-miss, but does feature a few strong moments of depth and visual pop. The best part of the visuals comes with the beanstalk and the giants. The beanstalk is believably designed, and I actually felt like I was up in the sky at certain points. And the giants are fabulous, effectively brought to life through motion capture and fine detail. All of the various effects occasionally become overwhelming (especially in the final battle scenes), but they are mostly terrific.

Singer doesn’t seem to put a lot of passion in the project, but he still directs it impressively. He has a good sense of pacing and knows how to put on a visual display on a large scale. Singer also does great with two key suspense scenes, one of which involves a net trap and another that features a giant that is cooking. Newton Thomas Sigel’s swooping cinematography and John Ottman’s adventurous music also aid Singer in presenting the overall epic quality of Slayer.

What mostly doesn’t work about Slayer is the script. Everything about the script is standard-issue for fantasy-adventure films. Sure, the initial story of Jack and the beanstalk is pretty interesting, but the add-ons in this version are beyond generic. The characters and most of the story turns not only feel stock, but I also managed to predict the “final kill” of the film by minute thirty – which is not a good sign. The writing also features obvious dialogue, with most of the “wit” of it rendered ineffective. Finally, the script is just too childish at times, even resorting to using booger gags. Such problems in the writing really drain a lot of the life from the film.

Another problem with Slayer is the acting. Hoult is alternately likable and boring in the lead, while Tomlinson and McShane seem unenthusiastic for the most part. Also, Tucci (somewhat amusing) and Ewen Bremner (as Roderick’s assistant) ham it up as the traitorous baddies. McGregor and Bill Nighy come off best, with McGregor charming as Elmont and Nighy giving the film a bit of flavor with his vocal performance as the lead giant.

Slayer is an entertaining fantasy-adventure film, but its writing is too run-of-the-mill to make it great. The movie is also crippled by its other before-mentioned flaws, and by having too long of a running time. Given the talent involved, Slayer really should have been better, but it has enough visual magic and exciting moments to make it worthwhile.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).

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