There’s enough potent subtext lurking in the script for Jack The Giant Slayer that it’s easy to imagine why Bryan Singer and Warner Bros. thought there was an interesting action film to be made here. On paper you’ve got a classic fairytale twisted into a modern action film with big CGI set-pieces and some spots for great character actors, all layered on top of a (kinda) subtle exploration of male sexuality and power. Also, you’ve got this odd idea that what lives above the clouds is not God in his Heaven, but a menagerie of twisted, hideous giants that are all men and who want nothing except to descend to Earth and consume mankind.
Unfortunately, the strongest foundation of subtext in the world doesn’t mean dick if what you build on top of it is dumb and dull.
Jack The Giant Slayer is a film full of, “yep, that’s how that’s going to happen,” as the tale you know is transformed into a tentpole studio film by means of every predictable beat you could think of. It begins as our hero Jack and his fated lover Princess Isabelle are each told a version of the tale of the giants by a parent they will lose before the story proper begins. Here we see the difference in their upbringing- Jack in his country shack and the Princess in her opulent castle. Though attempting some fanciful cross-cutting here, the movie is flatter and cheaper-looking from the start than you’d ever think acceptable. Meanwhile cutscenes from the Playstation 2 tie-in game for the movie are mixed in and tell us of the first attack of the giants from the sky long ago, and how a king banished them using a magical crown forged from the heart of a slain giant that allows him to command them. Move to the film’s present and the Princess is set to be married to an asshole (Stanley Tucci) who has secretly recovered said ancient crown and the beans capable of bringing the giants back.
Enter Jack, who gets wrapped up in the story in the traditional way, except he procures the beans by a mysterious monk who has stolen the beans away from the asshole but is about to be caught by royal guards. The usual things go down, except when the beans finally explode into massive ascending tendrils and carry Jack’s house into the sky, the princess happens to be in it and Jack is left behind. It is at this point the admittedly interesting, if sometimes bizarre subtext kicks in, as the beans actually do their thing when the Princess shows up to Jack’s house and they share a scene full of clumsy sexual tension. The two sheltered, single-parented kids sort of dance around their interest in each other when the beans happen to… get wet… and EXPLODE INTO GIANT PHALLIC VINES THAT CARRY THE PRETTY GIRL AWAY TO A KINGDOM OF GRUNTING, HUNGRY MAN-BEASTS. Nice call, Bryan.
Naturally the King wants his daughter back, and thus arrives a phone call resembling Ian McShane –clad in a suit of armor that could not be less flattering if the costume department had tried– who listen’s to Jack’s improbable story. Faced with the incontrovertible evidence of an enormous beanstalk where a house should be, the King sends Jack, his Ewan McGregor-lead honor guard, and the asshole (and his cartoonish manservant) up the veiny, throbbing beanstalk to search for Princess Isabelle. Yep, a bunch of dude’s effectively climb Jack’s boner to rescue the hot chick from his raging hormones.
Once on the giant’s island the film admittedly picks up a bit- we meet the giants, who are all pretty much covered in the same uniform grime, but feature different caricatured heads. The king is voiced by Bill Nighy, who truly puts a stake in his own tired voice-work. What seemed menacingly eccentric and textural circa Davy Jones in Dead Man’s Chest has become lazy and distracting, with Nighy smearing his lines into the microphone and generally committing rape on the syllabic construction of every word put in front of him.
It’s here that the asshole will use the crown to turn these grimy titans into his own personal army, so that he may take over the kingdom. Of course, the giants are keen to return to earth anyway, as their craving for man’s flesh seems to prevent them from enjoying their lush, floating island. Eventually the film breaks out into full-on battle mode as giants assault the castle by flinging flaming trees and bursting through stone, and the humans valiantly fight back as they can. Here Singer lets loose and pretty handily stages a convincing if unremarkable series of battle sequences. He certainly sells chaos well enough, all mixed in with the bizarre approach to bloodless, yet extremely intense violence that Singer often pulls off. You’ll recall X-Men 2, during which things get abruptly real when a raging Wolverine starts giving the business to a SWAT team in a shock of violence the franchise had not yet seen to that point. Giant Slayer contains a handful of similar beats, wherein the film suddenly becomes merciless and sometimes outright gleeful about moments of violence that are tonally incongruous with everything else. A few gross-out moments with the giants do the same, raising the question of at what audience is this film aimed? A little too hardcore for the real kiddies, it’s also far too immature and simplistic to energize the teen sector. For Chrissakes, there’s a scene in which our heroes take on a sleeping, farting giant by using a branch to drop bees into his helmet, so the big silly giant will dance around and hit himself until he falls off a cliff.
Again, sequences likes the great battle are not worthless, but they ultimately make up a small segment of the film, and everything preceding them is a predictable, pixely slog. The world created here is flat and samey all-throughout, as what reads as a renaissance fair is digital set-extended into a blockbuster film set. It doesn’t quite reach Alice In Wonderland or Oz: The Great & Powerful CGI overload, but you’ll have just as much trouble recalling any one image afterwards.
Even worse than the dull spectacle is that the film features some terrible performances from typically strong character actors like Tucci, Nighy, and McShane. Hoult is a decent enough hero, though McGregor out-charms him easily whenever they share the screen, with the veteran leading man managing the only performance that actually classes up the joint.
Though it does feature the hilarious sexual subtext and the odd strain of harshness, Jack The Giant Slayer is the very definition of forgettable. Granted, it’s so straightforward that it never does anything particularly stupid, and it’s brisk enough that it never becomes outright boring. It is the opposite of a giant film though- likely one that will slide right off your mind the moment you exit the theater.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars