CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)
By Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: The Kingdom of the Giants, high above the clouds. A GIANT stomps onto the scene, approaching MICHAEL ARRUDA, who sits on a rock counting some beans in his hand.)
GIANT: Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Muffin!
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Don’t you mean Englishman?
GIANT: No, I mean English muffin. (pulls out an enormous English muffin). I love the nooks and crannies.
MA: I see. Does that mean you’re not partial to human flesh?
GIANT: I didn’t say that. I’m just in the mood for an English muffin right now, that’s all.
MA: Am I safe to do my review here without worry that you might try to eat me?
GIANT (with his mouth full of English muffin): I’m not going to eat you. I prefer to eat meat in the evening, not in the morning. I’m watching my cholesterol.
MA: I see.
GIANT: Start your review. Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit here eating my breakfast if that’s okay with you.
MA: Not a problem. Welcome everyone to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m riding solo today, as L.L. Soares is on the other side of the clouds reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2. I’m here in Giant Land reviewing the latest fairy tale movie, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ( 2013).
And you know what?
MA: For the most part, I liked this one.
GIANT: No kidding?
MA: No kidding! It certainly has its share of drawbacks, but it could have been a lot worse. That being said, I’m also here to tell you it could have been a lot better.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) lives in a kingdom where the children grow up hearing the legend of the giants who live high above in the sky, and how they were vanquished years ago by the heroic King of the land, who defeated the giants with his magic crown which, upon his death, was buried with him.
Jack is a young farmer who lives with his uncle. Sent to the village to sell a horse, Jack instead takes in a traveling show where he happens to meet the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). The princess is restless and upset that her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has arranged a marriage for her with the much older Roderick (Stanley Tucci), so she constantly disguises herself and sneaks out of the castle.
When she runs afoul of some aggressive men, Jack jumps to her aid, but before the men rough him up, the king’s guard arrives, led by the head of the royal guard, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and they whisk the princess back to the castle.
But you can’t keep a good princess down. She sneaks out again, coincidentally ending up at Jack’s farm (yeah, that’s believable!), when the magic beans Jack had taken for his horse sprout the gigantic beanstalk which rises high into the sky above. Jack manages to escape the beanstalk, but the princess is trapped and is lifted into the sky.
The king organizes a rescue party, led by Elmont, which also includes Roderick and Jack. It’s up to these men to climb the beanstalk and rescue the princess from the clutches of the flesh-eating giants. Things grow more complicated when it’s revealed that Roderick has an agenda of his own, and saving the princess isn’t part of it.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER has its moments, and the best part of the movie is that everyone involved seems to be taking it quite seriously. You won’t find goofy camp here.
However, on the other hand, although the material is treated with integrity, it’s handled with kid’s gloves. This movie is rated PG-13. It easily could have been rated PG, and in fact felt like a PG movie. This was not a good thing. So when the menacing giant takes a human and bites his head off, the camera cuts away long before we see what happens. When soldiers suffer deadly wounds, not a drop of blood drips from their bodies.
Which makes JACK THE GIANT SLAYER a curious animal. The actors in the film play things as if they’re in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, director Bryan Singer, the man behind the first two X-MEN movies, shoots it with the pacing and ferocity of Wolverine, and yet it’s edited in such a way that it is so kid-friendly it makes you wonder if somewhere along the line the folks behind the film changed their minds as to how they wanted to present this thing.
The end result is it’s really nothing more than just a children’s fairy tale. The kiddos will love it because it’s exciting and action-packed, a bit more serious than their usual fare, but it’s all wrapped in a neat little PG package—sure, the rating says PG-13, but trust me, it’s PG material.
I found it enjoyable in a mild sort of way, but kept wishing it was a darker picture, and by darker, I don’t mean “R” rated, but I mean something along the lines of the aforementioned Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS movies (not THE HOBBIT, which lacked the same intensity). JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is more akin to a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movie than LORD OF THE RINGS, only without Harryhausen’s fun effects.
GIANT: Speaking of special effects, how were the giants in the movie? I’m always eager to hear how my cousins are represented on the big screen.
MA: I’ll get to the giants in a bit. Not yet.
Nicholas Hoult, who was one of the few things I liked about the recent zombie romantic comedy WARM BODIES (2013), is very good again here as Jack. There’s something very likeable and sincere about him, and I found myself easily rooting for Jack.
Eleanor Tomlinson is also very good as Princess Isabelle. She does a nice job playing both the strong and independent woman, and the vulnerable princess who doesn’t mind having Jack rescue her once in a while. I bought into her performance as a princess much more than I did Kristen Stewart’s tomboyish take on Snow White in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is also helped along by its veteran cast. Ewan McGregor as Elmont, the head of the king’s royal guard, shows more passion and exudes more personality here than he did in three movies as the sterile Obi-Wan-Kenobie. It’s a neat role for McGregor. He’s not the lead, not the young farm boy, but the seasoned veteran who is single-minded in his purpose to serve the king. To use another STAR WARS reference, he’s Han Solo to Jack’s Luke Skywalker, although he plays Elmont less like Solo and more like James Bond.
Playing King Brahmwell its Ian Mcshane, a veteran actor who I almost always enjoy watching. McShane has been in countless movies, and he’s probably most famous for his British TV show LOVEJOY (1986-1994) and for playing Al Swearengen in the HBO series DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006). Incidentally, McShane was also in last year’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, where he played one of the dwarves, but he’s much better here as King Brahmwell. That’s because in JACK GIANT SLAYER he delivers a performance that’s way above the material.
Stanley Tucci rounds out the veteran cast as Roderick, and surprisingly he was a disappointment. His performance was fine, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot. Roderick should have been a juicy role for Tucci—a no good scoundrel whose secret desire to rule the kingdom leads him to betray just about everyone in his path—and for a while it is, but he never really develops into the kind of villain this movie needs. I expected more.
And not to nitpick, but since Roderick was in line to marry the princess per order of the king, and was about to inherit the kingdom without having to lift one treacherous finger, the fact that he goes to all this trouble to conquer the king makes little sense when you think about it.
GIANT: Are you going to talk about the giants now?
MA: Not yet. Soon.
Director Bryan Singer brings a lot of energy and zing to this one, imbuing the film with exciting action sequences, colorful sets and costumes, and pacing that keeps the movie rolling.
The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney offers likable characters, enjoyable dialogue, and enough references and tweaks to the original tale to satisfy fairy tale connoisseurs. McQuarrie also wrote the screenplay for JACK REACHER (2012), VALKYRIE (2008), and, way back when, THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995).
The set-up is all here for a rousing adventure, but somewhere in the editing room, it must have been decided this needed to be watered down. The final result therefore is a mixed bag, an entertaining story without much bite.
GIANT: I’m going to bite you if you don’t start talking about the giants!
MA: Okay, I’ll talk about the giants.
GIANT: It’s about friggin time!
MA: What can I say? I was saving the giants for last.
Anyway, it should come as no surprise where the giants fit in here. Like the rest of the movie, they run hot and cold. At times, they look really cool with some neat attention to detail, while other times—actually, most of the time—they look fake and cartoonish, off the set of some old Looney Tunes cartoon.
They’re portrayed as menacing evil beings that’ll bite off a man’s head in an instant, but we never feel their wrath or their enormous hatred of humans. They’re rarely scarier than a villain in a Disney movie. In fact, some Disney villains are scarier.
Like other watered-down parts of this movie, had the giants been grittier, the film would have been that much better.
And don’t ask me how the giants procreate. There’s not a female giant anywhere in the land.
I chose not to see JACK THE GIANT SLAYER in 3D, believing the 3D effects wouldn’t be worth the extra money.
I liked JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, but I certainly didn’t love it. The acting by everyone involved was very good, the story decent, and the film itself energetic and exciting, but it could have used more of an edge—an adult take to the fairy tale proceedings—as well as some more convincing and frightening giants.
I give it two and a half knives.
GIANT (burps): That English Muffin was delicious. But I’m still hungry. Now what shall I eat? (Eyes MA and licks his lips.).
MA: You’re watching your cholesterol, remember?
GIANT: I know, but it’s so difficult!
MA: Here, have some magic beans. (tosses beans up towards giant.) They’ll put beanstalks on your chest.
GIANT: I probably shouldn’t eat these.
MA: No, but you can trade them in for all the food you want. They’re worth quite a bit.
GIANT: Gee, thanks! (Exits)
MA: Okay, we’re done here. Time for me to return to the real world. Now just where is that beanstalk again? I sure hope the elevator is working this time.
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ~ two and a half knives!