“If you think you know the story, you don’t know Jack.”
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson and Bill Nighy
Jack (Hoult), a farm boy, and Isabelle (Tomlinson), a princess, grow up hearing the same stories of a giantomachy in the history of Albion. When the machinations of an evil chancellor (Stanley Tucci) bring the return of the giants, led by General Fallon (Nighy, with a second head played by John Kassir), it is up to Jack, Isabelle, and the leader of the King’s Guardians, Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to stop them.
What’s wrong with it?
The film is split into two parts. The first is a spin on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk, with Jack and Elmont trying to rescue Isabelle when her desire for adventure leaves her stranded at the top of the beanstalk. Alongside this, Chancellor Roderick plots to use the giant-controlling crown of King Eric to, dare I say it, rule the world. At the midway point, however, Roderick dies and Fallon becomes the main antagonist, triggering a shift to a siege movie.
The problem with this is that it leaves both halves of the movie feeling a little rushed.
The tone of the film is similarly split, uncomfortably divided between light and jokey action on the one side and horrifically brutal deaths on the other. This might work, but the film tries to play some of the deaths for comedy, which really doesn’t work, and the broader comic elements (such as a running ‘there’s something behind me’ gag) fall flat in part due to the juxtaposition.
The other major flaw in the movie is Isabelle, who is presented as a tough, feisty princess, but is, nonetheless, an unrelenting damsel in distress, primarily there to be rescued by Jack. Apparently this is due to the same reluctance to have women involved in scenes of violence and death that led director Singer to include no female giants at all.
In fact, most of the problems with the film seem to stem from the fact that the filmmakers decided to include things that, in the end, they weren’t comfortable showing, like a woman actually doing something in a fight or giants eating people.
What’s right with it?
Outside of those big problems, the film is a pretty decent adventure yarn, with decent CGI and a cracking pace. The acting is all pretty top notch.
How bad is it really?
Jack the Giant Slayer is flawed, rather than terrible, and on the surface is a lot of fun to watch. Its problem is that it gets worse the more you think about it, which is really the wrong way around.
Best bit (if such there is)?
At the end of the film, Jack begins telling the story to his children. Over a montage of the crown being hidden in gold and finding its way into the crown jewels of England, a series of voices tell versions of the story as it mutates into the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.
What’s up with…?
- Creepy, Stanley Tucci-looking kid at the end? Did the film miss that it knocked him off as antagonist at the halfway mark?
- All the fart gags? It’s as if they looked at their giants and all the deaths and the eating people, realised that it was a bit strong for a family movie, then figured it was okay if they picked their noses and broke wind a lot.
- All the single giant ladies? Do the giants just exist? Their hearts are stone, so were they made?
- Jack wearing the crown at the end? Seriously, even if they had some aversion to the princess, blood heir to Eric the Great kicking arse at any point, she was still the logical one to wear the crown, rather than meekly standing a little behind and to the side of Jack as he crowns himself.
- Albion and the Kingdom of Cloister? Given that the crown becomes the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, this is clearly England, so where does all this Cloister business come from?
Production values – Top drawer stuff; an effective blend of CGI and live action. The squirm cuts away from people actually being eaten are the only clunky moments. 4
Dialogue and performances – For the most part, the dialogue is sparky, but a few lines are decidedly forced. In particular, a lot of the broader humour suffers from the tonal uncertainty. The acting is top notch, however. 8
Plot and execution – The plot changes villains mid-stream, and the direction is self-defeating with its tonal shifts and unwillingness to either give up some of the nastiness or go the whole hog. Bryan Singer is a great director, but not here. Bonus points for screwing up the action girl so terribly. 16
Randomness – The moat tunnel, the fart gags. Creepy, Stanley Tucci-looking kid. The fact that this is apparently set in actual England, despite being called Albion/Cloister and its anachronism stew of bizarre costumes. 12
Waste of potential – The film is mostly solid, but that just makes the missed opportunities – the rubbish princess, the uneven tone – harder to forgive. 11