Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Finally… a movie where the problems of three little people actually amount to a hill of beans. And, like most bean-related activities, the end result smells bad.

Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest action-adventure from Bryan Singer, and unfortunately for all of us, it’s more Superman Returns than X2: X-Men United. It’s a drab, silly motion picture with a poor sense of humor, lazy pacing and laughably bad visual effects. It’s like someone threw way too much money at the mockbuster version of a summer smash, and somehow tricked all these genuinely good actors into thinking it was the real thing.

Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) plays Jack, a farm boy who winds up with a handful of magic beans after a monk steals them away from the villainous Lord Roderick, played by Stanley Tucci. The beans get wet and shoot an enormous beanstalk into the sky, taking Jack’s house and Princess Isabelle, played by Eleanor Tomlinson, right along with it. So Jack, Roderick and Elmont, the captain of the King’s Guard, played by Ewan MacGregor, venture upward to save her from a kingdom of unconvincing CGI giants who want to conquer the world of men.

The story of “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk” was pretty ridiculous to begin with, so Singer probably had the right idea in not taking this movie very seriously. But at some point in the production it feels like somebody, or possibly everybody, lost their nerve. Jack the Giant Slayer has a childlike sensibility, impressed upon us at near-gunpoint by a prologue that frames the giants as a bedtime story told to young Jack and Isabelle, but the film also indulges in grotesque displays of head-chomping and eye-popping (literally) violence that seem custom made to give that same target demo nightmares. Silly images of King Ian McShane in ludicrously stout gold armor pass by like that’s the whole joke, never giving Jack the Giant Slayer quite enough absurdity to qualify as a Terry Gilliam-esque satire. It’s neither kids film nor gritty reboot, neither comedy nor drama, neither fish nor foul, and completely unsuitable for all mammals as a result.

And could somebody please explain to me why the giants in this movie needed to be computer-generated versions of “The BFG?” As monsters, giants are excruciatingly simple in concept: they’re just really tall people, even if one of them in Jack the Giant Slayer does have a mentally-challenged second head (because… what, the mentally-challenged are funny? is that where we’re at as a culture now?). Instead of crafting a race of believable live-action ogres using – presumably – much cheaper photographic techniques, Singer & Co. opted to sculpt from scratch some remarkably fake-looking effects that look like an animatic gone horribly wrong. Perhaps the character designs were intended to soften the blow when Jack slaughters them in increasingly morbid ways, but the result is that they’re more cartoonish than anything, and never so threatening that their various gruesome demises feel like anything more than a tragedy. Alas, poor giant guy… I knew him. He looked terrible on-screen.

Jack the Giant Slayer seems deeply confused about what it’s trying to be, and it never crafts a believable world because of it. The story moves like molasses, trudging sweetly towards one predictable plot point after another, and on the one occasion – one – when the movie does pull out a genuine surprise, it doesn’t change anything. The movie ends the exact same way it was already going to end. So I’m just going to spoil it for you, and save your family the cost of all those tickets: they all lived happily ever after, unless they saw Jack the Giant Slayer:

Read CraveOnline’s interview with Jack the Giant Slayer director Bryan Singer.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast, co-star of The Trailer Hitch, and the writer of The Test of Time. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.