Review: Jack the giant ripoff
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.
Fee, fie, fo, fum: I smell a derivative, boring “Lord of the Rings” wannabe.
‘Jack the Giant Slayer'
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy and Ewan McGregor
Hollywood's recent trend of repurposing children's tales as epic fantasy and/or action films is a curious one. It's a trend that nobody seems to have asked for, yet it continues unabated in spite of mixed reviews (“Snow White and the Hunstman”), critical pans (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters") and very little box office success (both of the aforementioned movies). Yet here we are with “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a movie so keen on emulating fantasy tropes that it commits grand theft cinema on a, if you'll pardon the phrase, giant scale.
Let's run through the epic hero checklist, shall we? In a mystical land vaguely reminiscent of medieval Europe, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a commoner who yearns for glory. Certainly haven't seen that before, have we? One day in the market, Jack sees a group of toughs harassing a pretty lady, who of course turns out to be the princess. Didn't see that one coming! And the princess is plucky and resentful toward her stern father, the king (Ian McShane), who insists she marry his scheming, preening royal adviser (Stanley Tucci). How very original.
Anyway, it turns out that once upon a time in this kingdom, some monks tried to find a way to reach God, or something, by growing a really big beanstalk. But when they climbed the beanstalk, they found a realm of giants floating in the sky. This realm comes complete with very impressive CGI waterfalls that would seem to create a perpetual rainfall below, but nevermind. The giants waged war on the kingdom, but through the power of a magic MacGuffin, they were banished back to their homeland. The story has been passed down as a children's tale (a bit I'm sure someone thought was very clever), but the royal adviser knows it's actually real and wants to use the MacGuffin to take control of the giants and gain power for himself.
And so commences a totally uninspired “epic adventure.” Through a series of contrivances, Jack ends up with the magic beans, creates a new stalk and ends up sending the princess to the land of the giants. He then joins the group sent to retrieve the princess, along with the no-nonsense leader of the king's guards (Ewan McGregor), the royal adviser and some other guards who might as well be wearing “Star Trek”-style red shirts. Battles, chases and escapes ensue, romance blooms between Jack and the princess, and so on and so forth.
While it's probably a given that there's not much great drama to be mined from a children's tale, it's disappointing how utterly unoriginal the movie's story is. It follows the boilerplate fantasy template with the devotion of an obsessive-compulsive, with absolutely nothing unique to offer in terms of either content or execution. It's so paint-by-numbers that you can predict down to the second what will take place. This is a particular shame since writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer once gave us “The Usual Suspects,” one of the most daring and original stories to come out of Hollywood in decades.
Even the characters are boring and flat. Only McGregor, McShane and Bill Nighy as the giants' leader show anything resembling charisma. The only decent thing about the movie is the 3-D, but even that isn't praiseworthy so much as it is unobtrusive; it doesn't detract from the experience, as 3-D often does, but neither does it really add anything.
In the end, “not bad but not great” is a succinct description of the movie itself: It's not especially awful, but neither is it stimulating in any fashion. Come next year, when another children's tale will likely be appearing in box offices, everybody will have forgotten about “Jack the Giant Slayer.”