The following review contains spoilers for Jack the Giant Killer. Please read on at your own risk.
Here’s the thing. Fairy tale subversions have been done. To death. Ad nauseum. It’s a quirky new trope that has become very old, very quickly, and with every new adaptation of this folk tale or that, my patience for them grows thinner and thinner.
And yet, I’ll admit. I had hopes for Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer. How could I not? It has Nicholas Hoult. It has Ewan McGregor. It has Bill Nighy and Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane! There’s a strong looking female character played by a relative newcomer. She wears armor! Without a boob plate! Sure the trailer seemed pretty hokey, but trailers rarely present an accurate depiction of the movie they’re advertising. I had decent expectations. Unfortunately, Jack the Giant Slayer turned out to be just as mediocre and thoughtless as other fairy tale retellings.
The story is a more detailed version of the old folk tale about a young farmer who trades his horse for a bag of beans, which grows into a beanstalk that leads to a giant’s castle. This time of course, young Jack (played by new Hollywood It-boy Nicholas Hoult) has more on his hands than just a simple bean and a giant. There’s a legend. And a princess, Isabelle (the lovely but underused Eleanor Tomlinson) who wishes to rebel against her father and be free (Ian McShane, always a pleasure). And some kind of conspiracy by the Isabelle’s evil fiance (played by the tragically wasted Stanley Tucci) to control the giants who dwell at the very top of the beanstalk. When Isabelle is, of course, stranded at the top of the beanstalk, Jack, the evil fiance, and the Isabelle’s loyal guard (Ewan McGregor, at his jolliest) are sent up to bring her back. Chaos ensues when the evil fiance gains control over the crude and monstrous race of giants, including their bizarre two-headed leader (Bill Nighy, essentially reprising his role as Davy Jones). Chaos ensues, everyone almost gets eaten, yada yada.
The story had potential. There were some clever scenes (when Jack hides a Chekhov’s Bean in his locket for safekeeping and then later drops it down the main giant’s throat) but nothing was particularly surprising or engaging. The second act dragged on with contrived and predictable plot twists and the third act was a disappointingly anti-climactic sequence in which the giants climb down beanstalks and attempt to invade the kingdom below. The ending was a convoluted epilogue-upon-epilogue that seemed to try and hint at something but didn’t quite make it. There was nothing new or inspired in the script (Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie), which was full of awkward, heavy-handed dialogue and bizarre anachronistic puns like “Here comes the thunder.” The obligatory romance between Jack and Isabelle was underdeveloped, and I kept hoping for some revelation that she was a lesbian, or secretly in love with Ewan McGregor this whole time, just for some kind of change of pace.
Isabelle is probably the biggest disappointment. She spends the entire movie talking about wanting to go on adventures and perform awesome heroics, pleading with her father that she can take care of herself and yet, in the span of the movie, she finds herself continually in peril and isn’t allowed to do anything to rectify the situation. In the last sequence she wore some beautiful and majestic golden armor, but never got the chance to actually do any fighting. Or anything really. As a character, she was wasted. Just another token female character who gets rescued by and subsequently married to the hero.
Admittedly, this isn’t the most terrible movie you’ll see. It was a perfectly serviceable fairy tale movie with an all-star cast that is, while not at their best here, still a delight to watch. But if you’re looking for a movie that subverts the subversive fairy tale reboot genre, you’re going to have to keep looking, because this wasn’t it.
2 out of 5 stars
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Christopher Fairbank, Simon Lowe, Ralph Brown, Tim Foley, Michael Self, Sydney Rawson, Tandi Wright, Warwick Davis
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney
Rated PG-13 (intense fantasy action violence, frightening images, brief language)
Released on March 1, 2013
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