Historically, the new year is slow for cinema. The first three or four months tend to have few bombastic action flicks, which are reserved for the big kids in summer, or gripping drama pieces, typically reserved for the adults in the fall. Instead, cinemaphiles are treated with scraps of good films amid the muck of remakes, cheap comedies, and kiddy films. One such kiddy film is “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
“Jack” continues the trend of fairy tales getting dressed up as gritty films like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Hansel and Gretel.” Only, “Jack” wants to have its cake and eat it, too. “Jack” is hardly a gritty reboot at all; there’s actually little violence, and most of it is off-screen or bloodless. Instead, director Bryan Singer focuses on using CGI to create massive giants, who are pretty bland looking despite all the money that was clearly put into their creation.
Many of the actors seem unsure of what type of film they’re in, as well. Nicholas Hoult (Jack) and Eleanor Tomlinson (love interest, Princess Isabelle) both act as though they’re starring in a mythical remake of Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo had his mouth open in every scene. Ewan McGregor (loyal knight, Elmont) and Stanley Tucci (Roderick, an evil knight looking to take the throne) seem to think “Jack” is a film for little kids, as they often act in overtly silly ways and make dumb puns at every turn. Even the lead villain, a giant with two heads voiced by Bill Nighy, has some weird direction; he plays his character as a scary creature, despite how goofy the giants look and that his second head serves as comedic relief. The only one who finds a good middle ground is Ian McShane, whose performance is adventurous, heartfelt, and comedic in equal parts as the king of the land.
Unfortunately, the giants ruin the day, and not just in the context of the film. They don’t really come off as scary, as their CGI is muddled and makes them look really weird. Many times, they wind up just being a base for gross humor and idiocy. Next to their live-action counterparts, the giants fall to the curse of mixing CGI creatures with the real world, and they just come off as cheap and rubbery.
The film’s structure itself is a mess as well. The movie starts well enough, establishing the character’s roles early on, although Roderick is a by-the-numbers traitor in plain sight (can you name any good guys who torture priests?) and Jack’s new romance is somewhat shallow. Once the stalk grows, though, the film turns into a giant (har har) chase scene with little action throughout. There’s a scene where Elmont battles Roderick over a cliff, which could have been cool. Instead, it winds up being laughably bad, looking less like a nail-biting one-on-one duel between rivals and more like two sixty-year-olds wrestling over the last piece of lemon cake in the retirement home’s fridge. Jack himself does little giant slaying, only having to actually fight twice. He’s not really a character, instead he’s treated as a device for the plot to revolve around. Even the film’s final-hour battle falls flat when the giants siege the kingdom. It’s basically thirty minutes of tug-of-war between the humans and the giants, implausible as that sounds, until Jack saves the day with an unexplained and hilariously stupid plot device that makes the giants pack up and go home in peace.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” suffers from an existential crisis: is it a comedy or an action film? A dramatic time piece or a movie for kids? If it wasn’t for its muddled direction, “Jack” could have been a good family movie to tide us over until the more substantial films of 2013 arrive. As it stands though, “Jack The Giant Slayer” is little more than a red X on Bryan Singer’s directing portfolio.