Thursday, February 28, 2013

Movie Review: Jack The Giant Slayer

The "reimagined fairy tale" is a tough nut to crack. Ever since Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland made a gajillion dollars at the box office, sending wide-eyed Hollywood execs scrambling to their nearest elementary school library, we've seen the good (NBC's Grimm), the innocent-but-fun (ABC's Once Upon A Time), the reasonably OK (Snow White and the Huntsman) and the soul-crushingly terrible (Mirror Mirror).

In the latest offering from the Fantasy camp, Jack the Giant Slayer, sometimes-disappointing and sometimes-mind-blowing director Bryan Singer gives us a family-friendly actioner akin to The Hobbit in tone, only without the substance and visual gravitas.

This spin on the classic tale begins when our hero Jack (Warm Bodies' Nicholas Hoult) crosses paths with the Princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) in an Aladin-style meet cute which leads, after a series of events, to the royal crush being lifted up into the sky atop a magic and fast-growing beanstalk. Jack volunteers to join the rescue effort, which also includes military man Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the nefarious man betrothed to NAME who yearns for the throne (Stanley Tucci).

But wouldn't you know it, at the top of the stock lies a land of giants long forgotten to legend who have apparently biding their time until the day they could return "below" to, in short, kill and eat everyone.

It's been 11 years since we first saw Hoult in the impeccable About A Boy and the actor continues to cement his status as a capable and confident up-and-comer. His Jack is an understated and calm antidote to the oppressively-cartoonish surroundings, from the hastily-rendered CGI giants to the two-dimensional buffoons that round out the supporting characters. Tomlinson and McGregor likewise do well enough to get out unscathed but Ian McShane as the king, adorned in overly-loud and awkwardly-cumbersome gold armor, looks like the live action interpretation of Shrek's Lord Farquaad. Similarly, Tucci – who's usually game for anything – appears to have arrived on set merely to mime through a few lines in front of the green screen before collecting his check.

Speaking of Green Screen, the film looks terrible, as everything is covered with the same off-putting celestial sheen of a Robert Zemeckis animated feature. Everything is either too bright or too dark, particularly the initial beanstalk rising which was little more than an indistinguishable haze behind the shadow of 3D goggles. This is now my second attempt at a 3D viewing and, as before, the constant efforts of my eyes to make sense of the various visual depths left me with a two-aspirin headache.

One last note before we put the CGI to bed. There was only one "wow" moment in the film, in which the camera scoots underwater as our hero ducks into a pond to hide from an approaching giant. It was a rare moment of plot tension heightened by interesting visuals but, unfortunately, the moment was partially spoiled by being featured in the film's lackluster trailer.

Plot-wise, things move along much in the way that you would expect, except for the inevitable showdown between giant and man that the film builds to over the space of an hour and a half only to squander in a 20-minute game of tug-of-war over the castle gate. Anyone expecting a Return Of The King-style war between an army of men and a horde of gargantuan beasts will be disappointed.

All that said, however, I did not hate this film. This is a children's tale adapted into a film intended for families and in that light, JTGS manages to exceed it's rote and tiresome peers. Were I the type of person who made a habit of accompanying children to the cinema, Jack would be a welcome respite from the sea of Ice Age and Madagascar sequels. Here's hoping that Singer is back on his A-game by the time we see X-Men: Days of Future Past

Grade: B-

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