Jack the Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer, 2013)
Back in 1995, I remember the excitement of watching a pretty amazing little indie thriller called The Usual Suspects (I imagine most people who were movie lovers at that time do, as well). It kind of rocked my cinematic world and introduced me to Kevin Spacey, whom I had not really noticed before. It also spun Spacey’s career into a whole new orbit, earning him an Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor (the film also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay). I still enjoy watching The Usual Suspects to this day.
Since then, Singer has gone on to a successful Hollywood career, directing such big budget extravaganzas as X-Men, X2, Superman Returns and Valkyrie. OK, maybe that last one wasn’t such a success (I’ve never seen it) but, overall, Singer is a director who brings in the bucks. I just wish he had retained some of the innovative energy he had starting out.
And that’s what this film lacks: energy. It’s entertaining enough, and I would definitely recommend it to families looking for harmless fun (though why they had to make it PG-13, when the obvious audience is children, I do not know). But it’s kind of flat and trite for anyone who has already seen a load of Disney films. It has the same aspirational, I-want-to-be-where-the-people-are vibe of films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and so on and so forth. The only new things here are some cool special effects and some decent 3D.
At first it seems as if the film might just subvert the gender hierarchy of the average fairy tale, much as the superior Snow White and the Huntsman did last summer. We meet Jack, of course, in the very first scene (as a little boy), and then meet Isabelle (as a young girl), the princess who will be – *spoiler alert* – Jack’s love interest. Will this be a tale in which the princess (eventually engaged, no surprise, to an undesirable suitor) has a hand in her own liberation? Well, sort of, maybe, kind of, but not really.
Jack the Giant Slayer follows the story of Jack, the farm boy, and Isabelle, the king’s daughter, as they grow up yearning for a life they each can’t have with the freedom to do what they want. Along come some magical beans, a huge stalk, and we’re off! At the end, lessons are learned, giants are tamed, and love is found. It’s sweet. And also a little boring.
The problem lies primarily with the two leads. Nicholas Hoult (the boy in About a Boy), as Jack, does not make much of an impression. He’s pretty, but we knew that already from his turn in A Single Man. A commanding screen presence, however, he is not. Eleanor Tomlinson, as Isabelle, is not any better. They don’t ruin the film, but nor do they hold your interest. It’s a good thing that Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan and Ian McShane are around to provide charisma in the supporting parts.
You could do a lot worse than spend two hours in a theater watching this. You could also do better.
One thing I genuinely do not understand is the very ending. What does it mean? Are we meant to believe that the Stanley Tucci character has been reincarnated in modern times, gap-toothed grin and all? It felt like a cute step too far.