Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jack The Giant Slayer

I was passively anticipating this film when it was supposed to debut in summer of 2012, but sort of forgot about it when it was delayed by Warner Brothers to March of 2013. I thought it looked somewhat interesting, but I didn't have any expectations. I even debated whether or not I would see it, but based on a few positive reviews from favorite critics, I decided to go for it. While I knew this wasn't going to be a game-changer in storytelling or even in visual thrills, I mainly was hoping for good, escapist fare to get me through until the real blockbusters start coming out later in the year.

The story is more or less a retelling of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale (with a few adjustments to the legend). Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a young man in his late teens, has grown up with stories of giants in a floating continent called "Gantua". They once came to earth when a magic beanstalk was planted by a group of monks attempting to reach heaven, and wreaked havoc until the King at the time helped drive them back into their land, cutting the beanstalk after them. This was managed by forging a crown from the metal-like heart of a fallen giant, which will give the wearer power over all the massive creatures. The princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) was told the same stories by her mother, instilling in her a great love for adventure. One day, a monk working in the castle attempts to flee the city with the remaining magic beans that will sprout the beanstalk that leads to Gantua, knowing that one of the king's men is plotting a reunion with the vengeful giants. Smothered by her father's overbearing rule, the princess flees in a rainstorm and seeks shelter at lowly Jack's leaky shack. Having traded his horse with the monk for the remainder of the magic beans, he was not aware that one had fallen through the cracks in the floorboards and sprouted into being after coming in contact with the rain water. The princess is taken to the land of the giants while Jack falls back to earth, promptly joining a search party to rescue the missing princess.

Despite that lengthy introduction of plot, it comprises only 15 minutes of actual screentime; a poorly animated sequence mostly filled with exposition filling the audience in on the updated lore. Thankfully, most of it is fairly well told and does a good job of building up to our anticipation of the giants' first introduction (about 40 minutes in). Jack The Giant Slayer hinges completely on the thrill of the moment, rather than resting its laurels on emotional involvement with the characters. The whole point of this film is to be entertaining, which it largely accomplishes. The intensity of the action as well as the suspenseful reveal of the giants is enough to keep the viewer at least superficially engaged in the story. Having said that, the characters are still likable and we do care whether a select few live or die by the film's conclusion.

The two romantic leads do a credible job of selling their yearning for one another, and they have pretty good chemistry on screen. Eleanor Tomlinson is a lovely actress, so it doesn't take much imagination to understand Jack's attraction to her. Ewan McGregor, who plays the captain of the King's elite guard, does a great job in the role and commands your attention whenever he's on screen. For me, the weak link in the cast was surprisingly Stanley Tucci, who plays the King's advisor (and main antagonist). His performance seemed uncharacteristically phoned-in and he wasn't bringing anything unique to the role. Still, his villainous portrayal is effective enough to bring in tension when necessary and wasn't wholly bad... it was sort of a bland portrayal, which wasn't what I expected from Stanley Tucci.

There is something that I really disliked in this movie, and it's rather unfortunate that it's the titular giants. To be honest, the first giant we see looks quite menacing and its physicality can definitely be frightening at times, but it's a steep decline from that wonderful introduction. Beyond that first encounter, it took me out of the movie a little bit whenever they were on screen, frankly. The voice work wasn't bad and the effects were fairly well done, but I didn't care for the design and realization of the creatures at all. I cared even less for the way they were characterized, with a giant picking his nose while making pigs in a blanket... which is just as off-putting as it sounds.

Still, this was a pretty entertaining film, and the twists on the classic fairytale as well as the fun of seeing the giants battle with likable characters makes this a recommend. Just as I suspected going into the theater, this isn't a game-changer or even a very good story. It's a fun diversion that doesn't ask much of the viewer and doesn't leave much of a lasting impression as a result. Needless to say, this isn't going to end up on my top ten list at the end of the year. I toyed with giving this three stars, but I ended up at two and half stars.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language