Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) - Movie Review

What if I told you that Obi-Wan Kenobi, Al Swearengen, Beast from X-Men: First Class and the Dad from Easy A were all in a movie together?  Slam dunk, eh?

Actually, that's not totally respectful to Stanley Tucci, but I couldn't think of his character's name from The Hunger Games.  Could anyone though, except for you nerdy book-readers?  I'm kidding of course, as I'm actually reading The Hunger Games right now.  What the hell was I talking about again?  Oh yeah, Jack the Giant Slayer.

Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest in the re-imaging of classic fairly tales, combining elements from both "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer".  This is one of the times where I felt the expansion on the existing tale worked well.  You get a little more backstory about their world and then they added more typical fantasy elements. It's done in a way that felt natural to the story.  It still manages to not be all that deep, so I didn't feel afterwards that this was a world I wanted to visit again.

The basic premise hasn't changed.  Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is an orphaned farmboy living with his uncle.  He's sent into town to sell off a horse and cart.  The cart gets stolen right away, and then a monk dupes him into trading the horse for a small pouch of useless, 'magic' beans.  Yes, Jack is kind of a screw up.  Jack does (unsuccessfully) try to defend the honor of Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), so at least he's a nice guy.  It turns out Isabelle is a princess who is expected to marry Roderick (Stanley Tucci), but she's not having it and wants to have adventures of her own.

This leads to her getting lost and finding Jack's house.  While taking shelter from the rain, one of the beans gets wet and a giant beanstalk grows upwards rejoining the human and giant realms.  Isabelle is carried away to the giant realm, so the King (Ian McShane) orders a small group of soldiers, let by Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to rescue her.  However, the giants haven't forgotten the humans (the humans have forgotten all about them) and how delicious they taste, so they are anxious to get back down to the human realm for some snacking.  It's up to Jack, the nice screwup, and Obi-Wan to stop them.

The main issue I had with Jack the Giant Slayer was that I felt it was all kind of lifeless.  There's no zip at all to the dialog, and not much chemistry between any of the characters.  I think it's the same problem the Star Wars prequels had in that there's so much CG that the actors don't react naturally to what's going on around them since nothing is actually there.  I will say that the CG is good, actually great in a few places, but I still got that sterile feeling I get from movies that use too much of it.  It's like The Hobbit, where sometimes you feel like you're watching a video game cutscene.

Another issue I had was that you have this great cast, and then don't really get to do much.  I was hoping that Ewan McGregor would get to show his swashbuckling, Jedi swordplay chops (even though I still hate Obi-Wan for what he did to me), but he doesn't get much of a chance to fight.  He actually loses his sword pretty early on in the movie, and then in the one hand-to-hand fight he has it's with Stanley Tucci, who's holding his own against him, despite not being a trained soldier.  You'd think a trained soldier would be able to beat the crap out of an aristocrat in like two seconds.  Stanley Tucci plays 'obviously evil guy' and has a creepy henchman (Ewan Bremner). They were about as generic as villains can get.  I was disappointed that there wasn't much to Ian McShane's character either.  There's just not much for him to do other than deliver his lines.  He seemed kind of bored with it.

I did like Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson (who reminds of me of a young Rachel Weisz), even though I didn't think there was a ton of chemistry between the two.  They are attractive and easy enough to like, but again, there's just not that much beneath the surface of their characters.

I'm going to harp on the dialog again.  It's actually not bad, but it's disappointing that there wasn't anything really clever about it.  Most of the humor came from fart jokes, and I only heard kids laughing at those moments.  There's this scene at the end (it's in the trailer, but maybe I'm remembering it wrong from the film), where the main giant catches Jack and he goes, "Who are you?"  Jack replies defiantly, "It's Jack!"  As if the giant knows who Jack is, or that should mean something to him.  Dialog really fails when it's just for the audience, and not for the characters in the film.  It would have been great if the giant replied, "And that means 'what' to me?"  The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Dan Studney and Christopher McQuarrie (never a good sign when there's three writers), really needed some punch up.  I'm surprised especially with McQuarrie's involvement, as he has written some great stories in the past.

When I heard Bryan Singer was involved, I took that as a mark of quality, as I figured he was just producing.  I was very surprised to see he actually directed it, as I didn't think he would have made something that's so clearly a kids film.  There is a lot of action and with the effects being as good as they are, that aspect of the film is entertaining and it's biggest strength. Jack the Giant Slayer isn't boring and well paced for a two hour film.

Even though this is PG-13, I didn't think there were any particularly scary images, and I didn't see any of the kids in the audience covering their eyes.  It'll depend on the kid, of course, but it might be a little too much for kids under 5.  The whole movie I thought about how much my nephews (8 and 5) would like it.  Contrast this with both X-Men and X-Men 2, which were both PG-13, and while also not bloody, both films felt so much more adult.  There are a lot of deaths in the film, but the film was largely bloodless or the camera cuts away at the point of impact.  Most of the deaths are of the video game variety, and involve disposable 'red shirt' characters.  The characters are so disposable that they didn't even bother with giving them decent names, if they were given names at all.  One of the guards name was "Bald".  Yes, he was bald.  I kept waiting for "Four Eyes" and "Porkins" to show up.  Anyway, I really think they could have gotten away with giving this one a PG rating.

Jack the Giant Slayer is sometimes fun and has really good effects, but ultimately a little too flat to be considered great.  They assembled a great cast, but then didn't give them much to do or anything interesting to say. If there had been a little more wit about it, then I think this would have had a much broader appeal, but it's ultimately a kids film. If you have a kid in that 5-12 range, then I think you can take them to a matinee and won't be too bored yourself. For anyone else, this is a rental.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

3 comments:

  1. Good review Erik. A whole bunch of fun and that's just about it. Nothing special, but fun for a couple of hours.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Dan. There's definitely some fun to be had with it and the effects are worth watching.

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