Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

3 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Going by the marketing for “Jack the Giant Slayer,” I really wasn’t expecting much from this movie. It looked like just a throwaway CGI action flick with nothing particularly special to deliver its audience. It just looked so generic and not worth checking out. But I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, because “Jack the Giant Slayer” quite the enjoyable entertainment. It’s fun, amusing, rousing, and surprisingly original.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” is an updated re-telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and while that fairy tale was never admittedly gripping, this time there’s something to be said about the adventures and the appealing characters that endure them.

As the movie opens, a young boy named Jack is having a story read to him by his father, while at the same time, a little princess named Isabelle is coincidentally having that same story read to her by her mother. It’s the story of a world of giants in a magical place between Heaven and Earth—apparently, a long time ago, giants invaded the village below until they were vanquished and banished to stay on their own land. How? Well, it’s magic, of course!

Ten years later, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a farmhand, princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is about to marry against her will, both people are adventurous young souls, and both have lost the very parent that read them the story all those years ago. (Well, of course.)

By the way, I have to say I found this first act very well handled, in the way it establishes character for Jack and Isabelle. It shows both sides as they seem to have something similar in common—it’s even more evident when Jack and his uncle are arguing while Isabelle and her father (the king) are arguing. As the scenes play back and forth, it’s almost like they’re saying the same thing. That’s very clever.

Anyway, Jack comes into possession of a pouch of magic beans that of course grow into a gigantic beanstalk that leads all the way up to the world of the Giants. At this time, Isabelle accidentally winds up stuck as the beanstalk grows, and so a rescue party, including guards Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Crawe (Eddie Marsan), is sent to climb up after her. Jack accompanies them, along with Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Isabelle’s would-be groom who actually has something far more on his mind than rescuing his bride-to-be.

There are Giants up there, and they are quite big and vicious. And there are a lot of them, which makes rescuing Isabelle far more difficult. Things get even worse when Roderick gains a magical legendary crown that will gain him control over all the Giants. He overpowers the vicious two-headed Giant general Fallon (Bill Nighy) and his hundred followers, and hatches a plan to take over the human kingdom below. While that’s going on, Jack continues to find and free Isabelle, and even manages to slay a couple Giants in the process, hence the title.

While some parts of “Jack the Giant Slayer” are rather predictable, there are quite a few surprises here and there. Some of these surprises have to do with the Giants, who have more personality than you might expect from a film like this. Some, like General Fallon, are suitably threatening, while others are here to display comic relief. And there’s also Fallon’s second head, who is barely able to utter words, that is both creepy and kind of funny. (Their CGI is impressive, especially when you see the Giants in close-ups.) There are some funny moments in the movie as well—sight gags (including Giants’ pigs-in-blankets that are literally pigs, in blankets) and one-liners (“Fear of heights?” “Fear of FALLING!” “Well then don’t fall!”). And it’s also self-aware of its fantasy-adventure genre, cracking jokes at the story’s expense when the time calls for it. For example, when Isabelle at the beginning tells her father that she doesn’t want to marry Roderick, she immediately turns to Roderick, and tells him “Sorry.” How does Roderick respond? He shrugs. I laughed out loud at that moment.

The inevitable action-climax featuring man versus Giant is quite entertaining as well, and it’s hard to tell exactly how everything is going to turn out, since there can never be a fair fight between a giant…er, GIANT and a puny little man. There’s a lot of tense action and some pretty terrific special effects—it really does look like these armies of different sizes are there in the same shot.

Nicholas Hoult stars as Jack, and it’s further evidence that this young actor is a genuine star. With this and “Warm Bodies,” I expect bigger things to come for him in the future. He’s quite effective and likeable here, going through Jack’s expected character arc from commoner to hero. Eleanor Tomlinson is fun and fetching as the princess Isabelle. Stanley Tucci has a lot of fun hamming it up as the human-villain, while Bill Nighy is invaluable as always, even when playing a gigantic CGI monstrosity. Also, Ewan McGregor is fun as the dashing Elmont, who could be the hero but has his weak points that slow him down.

I enjoyed the film, but some parts were a little sloppy. For example, we never see Jack’s uncle again after the first half-hour, and the movie never tells us what he’s doing or where he’s gone. And also, why would Roderick want to rule Giants and crush his fellow mankind anyway? Wouldn’t destroying humanity make things kind of boring afterwards? Dude, you’re marrying a princess and thus commanding a kingdom!

And I also found myself questioning the Giants’ lifestyle at certain points. For example, it’s established that humans are a delicacy for Giants, so what do they usually eat on their land? And also, there doesn’t seem to be one female among them. How exactly…actually, never mind. I shouldn’t read much into this.

Thanks to sharp direction by Bryan Singer, a top-notch cast, and some pretty damn good-looking special effects, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a terrific adventure. I’m glad I took it, despite my doubts before.

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