It really says something when the best thing in your movie is a scene where a giant picks his nose then wraps Ewan McGregor in pastry. It’s quite frankly mind-boggling why most of the decisions in Bryan Singer’s fantasy romp were made. What were they thinking?
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is a reinterpretation of the classic fairytale. Peasant farmer Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given some magic beans (in this version of the story, holy relics) by a monk, then has a chance encounter with a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), her guards (lead by Ewan McGregor) and scheming royal advisor (Stanley Tucci) before the enchanted plot-driving pulses whisk them all off into the clouds to the mythical land of giants, where an old grudge threatens to reignite an ancient war.
So far, so promising for a kiddie’s fairytale revival. Unfortunately, the scenes in the land of men look like an even cheaper version of the BBC’s MERLIN, with a smidge of NARNIA thrown in, and the all-too-short sequence in the land of giants mostly rips of Guillermo del Toro for visual inspiration, and it’s not even a good rip-off, it’s a bad impersonation drained of all vitality.
Most of the actors look lost or bored. I’m sure Nicholas Hoult will have his day as a convincing Hollywood leading man, but his isn’t it. Ewan McGregor just falls back on his Obi-wan Kenobi voice and is out-acted by his hair gel (re-applied, of course, between scenes), Stanley Tucci does a seriously awful plummy English accent with rather insulting teeth to match, Ian McShane might as well be reading cue cards and Bill Nighy as the lead giant does Davy Jones again, but with a wobbly Northern Irish lilt. I’ve no idea whether Eleanor Tomlinson was any good as Princess Isabella, as she’s given so little to do she makes no impact whatsoever.
The action scenes are fine, and clearly used up all of the film’s budget (that can be the only excuse for how cheap every soldier’s armour looks), but aren’t the least bit original, or frequent enough to give the film any real life. There’s a lot of running and hiding, and hitting or stabbing giants with anything that’ll make a mark, and an uncreative siege battle at the end. Bryan Singer is a good director, and has proven he can both handle action and deconstruct characters in interesting ways when he’s really engaged with the material, so it’s clear he just didn’t care enough to give this film a much-needed spark. Perhaps it’s the film’s troubled production that caused him to lose interest, or maybe he was just dreaming of his return to the mutant fold. Whatever happened, his heart wasn’t in it. Even Singer’s less successful films (SUPERMAN RETURNS, VALKYRIE) are noble, well-meaning near-misses, all because he cared. He didn’t here, he can’t have.
As for the giants themselves, they look OK, but compared to the achievements in animatronics in a Guillermo del Toro film, or motion capture performance in a Peter Jackson film, they’re pretty uninspiring. Ten years ago they might have been impressive, as the focus-points for a fantasy movie, they’re a bit dull and sloppily designed in a world where we’ve been amazed by fauns and Gollum. Plus, Bill Nigh’s giant has a second head with learning difficulties attached to his shoulder – I don’t know whether it was meant to be funny, but it’s not, it’s just offensive.
Jack the Giant Slayer doesn’t work well on any level. It’s visually bland, feels rushed despite a delayed production process, and the acting and direction feel careless. Even the lowbrow humour that might redeem such a film as “so bad it’s good” falls flat. It’s a waste of the talents of everyone involved, and Bryan Singer is extremely lucky that the film is unmemorable enough to not put too much of a blot on his career. SSP