Monday, March 11, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer opened in theaters a few weeks ago, playing to the current public fascination with retooling classic tales for modern audiences. Growing up, "Jack and the Beanstalk" was always one of my least favorite fairy tales, due primarily to a distinct lack of any sort of romance -- or, at the very least, the presence of any female character with whom I could identify. (The only retelling of this story that I enjoyed at all was the 1967 film version starring Gene Kelly -- PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one that's seen this!) Trailers for this film promised not only a hint of romance but a healthy dose of humor as well -- and as a decent Saturday afternoon entertainment the film (mostly) delivers, even if it falls a bit short in my view of being a truly memorable fairy tale retelling, lacking a certain spark that I look for in film and bookish retellings of this type.

According to the film's Wikipedia page, the script for Giant Slayer was based on two "Jack" stories -- the widely-known "Jack and the Beanstalk" (English in origin, Jack living with his widowed mother, steals hen that lays golden eggs & a harp from giant, NO romance) and "Jack the Giant Killer" (Cornish fairy tale, King Arthur figures into the plot, and there is a lot about Lucifer, magical accouterments, Jack ends up marrying a Duke's daughter, etc.). Personally I think I would've liked Jack a whole lot more growing up if I'd been exposed to the Cornish version of his story -- I mean HELLO?? Jack has loads of adventures, a magic sword, and a CAP OF KNOWLEDGE! Clearly I spent my childhood reading the wrong fairy tale compilation. *wink*

While I enjoyed this film well enough, on the whole I think it was something of a missed opportunity as it felt like it couldn't decide what it wanted to be -- an old-fashioned fairy tale, an epic war adventure with modern sensibilities, or something more...slapstick, and ultimately forgettable. Something just felt "off," and while it is hard for me to pinpoint exactly why this movie didn't work for me quite as well as I'd hoped, nonetheless it gets points for making Jack a winning character on the big screen.

This film positions Jack from childhood as a boy with a longing for a life bigger than his father's farm, one in love with the legends of his kingdom -- particularly Erik the Great, the king of Cloister who defeated an army of invading giants by crafting a magical crown that allowed him to banish them (as long as the crown remained safely in his keeping). Now right off the bat this movie loses a ton of points with the gosh-awful CGI flashback of the giants and Erik. It was BAD...I mean like ten years ago, in a video game, this maybe, maybe would've been cutting edge. So I'm immediately predisposed to think of the giants as ridiculous instead of fearsome...but clearly that is something the filmmakers were conflicted about as well, given how things play out.

But back to earth, for a moment...the script makes the smart decision to introduce a female lead early on, juxtaposing the young Jack's fascination with his kingdom's history, an interest unbeknownst to him that he shares with the current king's only child, the Princess Isabelle. Years pass and Jack grows up under surly uncle's care, having lost his father years earlier -- a loss he shares with Isabelle, left struggling against her father's desire to be the "perfect," protected princess after her mother's untimely death.

Even though this film hasn't been loved by critics or the box office, one cannot deny that as Jack, Nicholas Hoult is having a pretty good year. Following his turn as R the zombie in the charming (yes, CHARMING) zombie-romantic comedy Warm Bodies, Hoult tackles more traditional Hollywood fare here with this throwback to classic Hollywood adventure spectacles of yore. He's adorable as the poor boy longing to make good, and has an appealing chemistry with Eleanor Tomlinson as Isabelle -- but both tend to come off as a shade too...sincere, is perhaps the word I'm looking for (though I tend to blame the script rather than the actors...they don't have a great deal to work with here).

The absolute best thing about this film is its stellar supporting cast, particularly Ewan MacGregor as the dashing and PERFECTLY COIFFED Elmont, leader of the king's guard. According to Buzzfeed, MacGregor's hair was the best thing about this movie, and I've got to say I'm inclined to agree with that assessment -- only I'd take it a step farther. MacGregor seems to be the only one having any real FUN here -- he knows he's in an absurd film and clearly relishes every opportunity he's given to ham it up for the camera (i.e., when he's about to become a human "pig in a blanket" in the giant's kitchen -- his bravado is hilarious). I really rather wish that if this movie was going to be made, it had been given the greenlight five or so years ago, when perhaps MacGregor would've had a shot at playing Jack instead of stealing the show in a supporting role.

How did I get in this movie?

Me and my awesome hair, totally responsible for any and all ticket sales.

Eddie Marsan (Lestrade in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock films) plays Elmont's ill-fated sidekick Crawe. He doesn't have quite as much fun as MacGregor (considering the end he meets at the hands of the giants' general, that's the understatement of the year), but I love any opportunity I'm given to see him on-screen. The always adorable Stanley Tucci plays the villainous Sir Roderick, who first strives to conquer Isabelle's kingdom through marriage, and failing that, brute -- GIANT -- force. Tucci chews the scenery as Roderick in very much the same fashion he does as Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games, only with measurably less biting wit. *wink* As a point of reference, Roderick reminded me quite a bit of Cary Elwes as Edgar in Ella Enchanted. That.. *ahem* ...ridiculous. :P

Ooooohhhh, SHINY.

Last, but certainly not least, Ian McShane plays Isabelle's father, King Brahmwell. Now I love McShane. L-O-V-E him. But I kinda want to weep if this is what he's doing now...I just hope he didn't take this job and turn down the Gabriel Byrne role in the new Vikings show on the History Channel...because goodness THAT would've been a mistake. If you're interested in seeing McShane being AWESOME watch the all-too-short-lived series Kings, where he plays a memorable Silas -- and for a taste of Ian in his younger years, check out Gypsy Girl. It's a weird, WEIRD movie, but oh my WORD is McShane hot in it. :) As the embattled king, McShane exhibits a lot of strum und drang, but the second he turns out in gold-colored armor he loses all credibility. I don't know WHAT it is about gold armor, but it is SUCH a buzzkill for me. True story. I mean who can own THAT?


Bill Nighy, phoning it in...

The vocal talent behind the giants is much more impressive than the actual giants themselves, sad to say. Led by Bill Nighy as General Fallon (seriously, BILL NIGHY...disguised as a cartoonish giant...what. a. WASTE), the giants skitter between moments bordering on menace and bathroom humor stupidity. While the CGI that brought them to life was better than the "flashback" at the beginning of the film, it still didn't quite work for me...too cartoonish, too much of a rip-off of the Ents from Middle-earth.

While this movie is a decent enough popcorn flick, as a "classic" fairy tale retelling it misses the mark in too many respects for me to truly love it. Throughout I felt as though it was struggling with a split personality -- wanting to either be a silly, kid-friendly flick or something more epic in scale and scope, as evidenced by the battle scenes in the final act. And while there is plenty of likeable talent to be found, the script and therefore the characterizations are either a mess or colorless caricatures. This latter point is what makes me most concerned about director Bryan Singer's return to the X-Men universe next year. I was thoroughly impressed with Matthew Vaughn's handling of the First Class universe and it's sprawling cast of characters, and I really wish he'd been given the chance to test his mettle with the sequel. (At least he's on board as producer.)

The end of this movie is the icing on the cake of COMPLETE RIDICULOUSNESS, but maybe that's just me. I mean I don't mind exploring folk and fairy tales as part of history but this movie took things a little too literally IMO. But John Ottman turns in a fun score for this hot mess! And any script/story problems aside, this is totally worth renting for Ewan's hair should be classified as a certified wonder of the filmic world. If you've seen the movie I'd love to hear what you thought!


Kaye Dacus said...

Maybe it was just me, but I felt like there was some heavy-handed foreshadowing (or hinting, anyway) that the King's right-hand man, General Entin, was more than what/whom he appeared to be, only to have that come to nothing. I kept expecting that there was going to be some twist of backstory involving him that would help them defeat the giants.

Unknown said...

@Kaye - Oh totally! There were several moments where the camera lingered on Entin, teasing a reveal that never came.

Deborah said...

Before I start off again about the wonders of Ewan's hair, for more Ian McShane in his younger days, he plays Judas Iscariot in the 1977 TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, to which he is always that to me.

Anywho back to Ewan's hair, YES! The absolute best part of the movie. I wanted more of him. To be honest, I'm not really sure why his character was in the movie because there was no real payoff for him. Other than having fabulous hair. Seriously the best part was when it was all wet from the lake or whatnot, and then suddenly 30 seconds later all sticking up perfectly mussed up and dry.

I think I must have fallen asleep during part of the beginning...when they were climbing up the beanstalk because I barely remember Lestrade being in the movie and next thing I know he's been eaten. I liked Nicholas Hoult and I liked Jack (he looked very modern with his "hoodie" and "leather jacket") though he just wasn't as memorable for me as Ewan. And I did love him in Warm Bodies. Interestingly I have only seen 2 movies so far in 2013 and they both star him.

Unknown said...

@Deborah - Oh! Thanks for letting me know that about McShane...I've never seen that miniseries, can you believe it?

And for realz, yes poor Ewan's character had no point, really, except being awesome and well-groomed. :P

I think lots of actors would've been hard-pressed to outshine Ewan hamming it up. ;)

Heidenkind said...

I kind of want to see this. :) But I'll probably wait for it to come out on DVD.

Kristin said...

I'll probably end up seeing this when it comes out on DVD. It sounds...interesting, and like something I'd enjoy (even if it doesn't live up to its potential). :)


P.S. I hope you were pleased with Sunday night's Once Upon a Time! I know I was. :)

Jess said...

I've been curious about this, since there was a lot of hype and advertisement about it. . .
Ha--Elwmont's "perfectly coiffed hair"! He always has had the interesting do's, hasn't he? I'll have to keep an eye out for the dvd if only for Ewan ;)

So you liked Warm Bodies? I've been trying to decide whether or not to see it when it comes out on dvd, and I've been hearing more and more good things about it!

Unknown said...

@Jess - I think it'd be a good rental, if only for Ewan. He's always worth it. :)

I LOVED Warm Bodies! Can't wait for the dvd release!!

Anonymous said...

Good review Ruth. I thought this film was a lot of fun and did a very good job keeping my attention.

Unknown said... - Thank you! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it! :)

Unknown said...

@Tasha & @Kristin - I totally forgot to respond to your comments! Whoops! ;) Good call on the rental, Tasha! And Kristin -- I LOVED last Sunday's Once Upon a Time! :) :)