March 1, 2013
By the time the bombastic yet tragic minor-keyedLord of the Rings-type theme music swelled to accompany Jack The Giant Slayer’s climactic battle scenes, I was tempted to flamboyantly roll my eyes in slow motion. I couldn’t have cared less.
This new release, that was slated for last summer and tellingly sat on the shelf until now, is exceedingly straight-ahead, uninventive and laden with special effects. It leaves the audience feeling like it spent an evening at an expensive restaurant expecting to taste some delicious, innovative dish, only to find themselves digesting a bland, flavorless Betty Crocker casserole. Not only is the cuisine uninspired, ultimately, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Something new? Not hardly. Jack buys beans, a stalk grows into the sky, where a land of giants just biding their time for another chance to take over the world below awaits. There is the addition of a princess who yearns for adventure, runs away from the castle and the tool of a future husband to whom she has been promised and winds up accidentally carried up the beanstalk in Jack’s humble cottage. The giants capture her. They love humans… with a side of hollandaise.
It is up to Jack and the leader of the King’s men, Elmont, to rescue the princess. That’s basically the whole story, and there’s nothing in it we haven’t heard somewhere before, delivered with far more panache.
The actors can’t be blamed. Nicholas Hoult, who is riding on a romcom zombie high with the well-attended, well-reviewed Warm Bodies, does sincerity proud as the title character. He gets a lot of mileage here from that “gee whiz” grin we’re all growing to appreciate, and he carries off the perfect mix of awkward outsider and leading hero.
Ewan McGregor as Elmont, the swarthy knight who laughs at fear, and Stanley Tucci as Roderick, an over the top villain hungry for power, do their level best with the endless string of cliched lines they are given. Despite unfortunate costuming that brings to mind Shrek‘s Lord Farquaad, Ian McShane is a fittingly regal and believable king. Unfortunately, Eleanor Tomlinson, who has the one female role that lasts through the movie, playing Princess Isabelle, is a bit of an empty shell. She has little to do as she is forever getting rescued, providing scant inspiration to little girls looking to damsels in long dresses for empowerment. Shrek‘s Fiona she is not.
The special effects are one good reason to check the movie out. The diverse environments and the many examples from the species of giants are rendered in extreme detail, although the first panoramic view of the land of the Giants we see had me muttering, “Welcome to another tweaked New Zealand…” The giants are filthy, badly mannered grumpuses who can track Jack’s crew by sniffing the air. They have been tracking and snacking on people for eons, as the remains we see in old cages and scattered hither and yon attests. It is hard not to find it entertaining, the way they pop various secondary characters like Tic Tacs or crunchy stalks of celery. To see them do it in 3D is even more hilarious.
The real and enduring problem is the script. Had the filmmakers gone for a pithy Princess Bride vibe, developing cameo characters and a slightly more off kilter or inventive storyline, they really would have had something. These are the usual suspects for an action-adventure flick, all speaking lines we fans of that genre could say in our sleep.
Bryan Singer has had some great hits and created some wonderful movies we can watch over and over again. He should be looking ahead. We all have high hopes for the X-Men: Days of Future Past because it will be bringing together members of the older cast and the younger one, and utilizing time travel in ways he won’t yet share.
So. My advice to you, movie lovers who want to see great things from director Bryan Singer, is to look forward to the great cast of X Men being released in 2014 and which starts filming soon! For now, pull out your copy of 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free where you can see the cartoon classic Mickey and the Beanstalk. How can anyone top a cast featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy? You can’t.