Chief Justice Michael Stailey once traded his career for some magic beans, which is how he wound up here.
If you think you know the story, you don't know Jack.
Bryan Singer is one of those hit or miss filmmakers. When he's on, he's really on (The Usual Suspects, X2: X-Men United). When he's off, it's not pretty (Superman Returns, Apt Pupil). Warner Bros. invested a great deal in Jack the Giant Slayer, a big budget CG epic fantasy that tanked at the box office and will likely never recoup its losses. However, like Andrew Stanton's John Carter, there is much more to the film than its financial health. In other words, passing on this adventure would be a giant mistake.
Facts of the Case
Jack (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) is an orphaned sharecropper who longs for adventure beyond his farm. Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, Alice in Wonderland) is a motherless princess who longs for a life beyond her daily regal grind. Together, they will discover a new world, battle giants, rescue friends and family, defeat a traitor in their midst, save the kingdom from certain destruction, and live happily ever after. What more do you want from a fairy tale?
Jack the Giant Slayer is a film that goes exactly where you expect it to. We know where all the beats are, what the reveals will be, who will suffer horrible deaths, and who will emerge victorious. And despite all this, you won't care, because it's one hell of a good time…which is a truly commendable achievement.
As a movie-consuming collective, we've quickly outgrown the wide-eyed spectacle of heavy CGI fantasy adventures. From suffering through George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, to savoring our time spent in Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth, we've seen the lows and highs of where Hollywood technology can take us. In the process, we're reminded again and again that story is critical to keeping our attention. Though Darren Lemke, David Dobkin, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney's script for Jack the Giant Slayer isn't going to win any major industry awards, they somehow manage to establish this world's legend up front and play that through to the end without any unnecessary sidestepping. We get Jack, magic beans, beanstalks, vicious giants, an epic battle, and a classic boy meets girls romance featuring pretty people who we actually care about and don't want to see slaughtered before the picture ends. Yes, it's vanilla…but sometimes a good vanilla is far better than a lousy triple fudge ripple with caramel swirl.
Since story isn't enough, we need solid performances to sell this tale. Nicholas Hoult once again proves he can front a major motion picture with disarming charm and dry wit. Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games) and Ewen Bremmer (Trainspotting) chew scenery as the duplicitous insiders, like classic animated Disney villains brought to life. Bill Nighy takes the lessons he learned playing Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and breathes dynamic life into General Fallon, the Giants' power hungry king of the hill. Ian McShane (Deadwood) lends his own unique gravitas to what could be a throwaway role in King Brahmwell. Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) is pitch perfect as the noble and heroic Elmont, captain of the royal guard. And Berj Bannayan's VFX team gives these CG giants just enough personality and style to distinguish themselves from one another.
Is this a world you'd want to visit repeatedly? Probably not, but it's a pleasant enough diversion you're likely to stop and stay a while should you come across it again. Hell, there are enough genre easter eggs sprinkled throughout to warrant at least two viewings, and the violence is tame enough that even the little ones can enjoy the ride.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the visuals are be a bit lackluster due to a rather muted color palate, but detail is exquisitely sharp and the visual effects impressively seamless. Singer does a nice job balancing the use of practical sets with world expanding CG. Credit the stunt team for earning their paychecks on this picture and the motion capture ensemble for giving the animations a great deal to work with. Yes, the giants are a bit over the top, but they're giants…everything they do is bigger than life. Warner Bros' DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track goes above and beyond the call of duty, utilizing every square inch of the soundfield and impressing the heck out of everyone. What's more, composer John Ottman's score is surprisingly memorable, and achievement he can't always claim.
I am taking the studio down a notch for this lame set of bonus features. Dressing up fragments of what should be one making-of featurette as an interactive quest hosted by an obviously disinterested Nicholas Hoult was an incredibly stupid idea. Not even my eight year old nephew had the patience to climb this virtual beanstalk, only to be rewarded with an alternate opening which should have anchored an already uninspired collection of deleted scenes. Oh, and if this gag reel doesn't convince you this home video staple should be banned from all future Blu-ray and DVD releases, nothing will.
Don't judge this fairy tale by its literary lineage or blasé box office word of mouth. Jack the Giant Slayer is a respectable epic adventure worthy of an evening's entertainment. With any luck, it just may show Bryan Singer is sharp enough to deliver an impressive adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's X-Men: Days of Future Past. God willing.
In the words of Gob Bluth, "Climb that beanstalk, homo!"
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