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New Release Review - Jack the Giant Slayer

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Warwick Davis

Note: This review will contain minor spoilers, though nothing major will be revealed.

'Jack the Giant Slayer' has been getting many comparisons to last year's 'John Carter'. Both were big-budget March releases and both had high hopes for sequels. However, the box office returns for both films have been extremely underwhelming. While I am no fan of 'John Carter', at least it wasn't a complete disaster. The same cannot be said of 'Jack the Giant Slayer'.
Inspired by the classic fairy tale, 'Jack and the Beanstalk', this modern re-imagining follows more or less the same story initially. 18 year-old Jack is to sell his horse in the market, though he is swindled by a crafty monk, and given only "magic" beans for the horse. Jack is warned not to get them wet but, of course, Jack fails to keep the beans dry. So, Jack's house is swept off the ground and into the sky by a giant beanstalk, taking a young princess named Isabella with it. Jack volunteers to climb the beanstalk in order to rescue Isabella, along with a handful of other individuals. From here on out, there is almost nothing that even vaguely resembles the original fairy tale.
It would be impossible to specifically name everything that 'Jack the Giant Slayer' does wrong (especially when I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum), but even by just naming a fraction of the things this film does wrong, this review will be plenty long.
The film kicks off with an ill-conceived sequence that's entirely CG. It's supposed to be something of a prologue, but the CG lacks detail, and just looks primitive. This prologue would've looked quite impressive in a video game, but in a big-budget fantasy film, audiences expect a lot more. One wonders why this prologue wasn't done in live-action. Time constraints? Budget? A combination of the two? Either way, it's a poor start to a film that only gets worse from there.
The plot is nothing to write home about. It's the basic "Save the Princess" concept that's been exhausted and stretched to it's breaking point. Even 'Jack the Giant Slayer' couldn't do much with this concept, so an extra half hour padding at the end is tacked on. This last half hour is occupied by a battle between the humans and giants. This is without a doubt, the high point of the film, but it's still riddled with flaws, obvious oversights, and even a cop-out or two.
'Jack the Giant Slayer' is also tonally uneven in many ways. For one, it attempts to be a romance, a comedy, and an action flick all at once. While this isn't an unusual blend, and many films have pulled it off successfully, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' fails miserably in this respect. The comedy is often lowbrow or childishly crude. Boogers, farting, and belching are just a few things that 'Jack the Giant Slayer' expects us to laugh at. The only laugh this film got out of me was during a clever, but brief, reference to a previous film on co-star McGregor's resume. 
The romance is done clumsily and predictably. If you can't tell from the minute we meet Isabella that she and Jack will fall in love, you are clearly new to the world of film. The romance feels more like an afterthought, or as an attempt to bring girls into the audience, as 'Jack the Giant Slayer' is a complete boy's film, and proud of it.
Characters are underdeveloped and uninteresting, and the acting is mediocre at best. The lead, Jack, is portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, whose role mainly consists of looking bewildered or terrified, until the second half where he shifts into a personality lacking hero. Jack's single defining trait is his fear of heights, which is resolved within 20 minutes of the discovery of this fear. Eleanor Tomlinson plays Princess Isabella, a bland character made blander by lifeless acting. The character does nothing to distinguish herself from the thousands of other damsels in distress that Hollywood has given us.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the acting department is Ewan McGregor's performance. Despite being a usually capable actor, McGregor's performance is monotone and forgettable (though this may have something to do with the equally monotone and forgettable character he portrays). The only interesting character in the entire film is Wicke (played by Ewen Bremner), who is killed off within the first 45 minutes.
In addition to the underdeveloped characters, there are many other elements of the film that are not explained, or are quickly dropped or forgotten. The significance of a certain magical crown, which the movie focuses quite a bit on, is never truly explained. Also, while the giants are set aflame, slashed with swords, and forced to swallow large groups of bees, they do not die, or even seem very affected. Yet, they seem easily weakened by ordinary arrows.
The visuals, while sometimes inventive and impressive, seem a bit underwhelming and even unnecessary at times. The giants, for example, are completely CGI, and simply aren't realistic enough to even present the illusion that they're actual living beasts in the film. Would it have been so hard to use real actors for the giants and just balloon them to a larger proportion? It would've been much more convincing at any rate.
The score, composed by John Ottman, is mostly forgettable. While there are rare moments of John Williams-esque action music, the score is fairly generic and uninteresting, not unlike most elements of the film.
I felt like I set my expectations relatively low walking into this film and somehow, 'Jack the Giant Slayer' went way below my expectations. How? Through poor acting, generic plot, weak characters, unnecessary CGI, and a mass of contradictions and obvious oversights. It is obvious that a sequel was planned as a nonsensical and somewhat confusing attempt at a sequel hook was made at the end of the film. Of course, due to dismal U.S box office results, it appears that a sequel will be highly unlikely for this fairytale flunk.
Last year, I said in my review of 'John Carter' that if some of the content had been cut out, it could've been a PG-rated flick that kids could see, as the film would certainly be more appreciated by children. The same can be said for 'Jack the Giant Slayer'. There seems to be just enough violence and language to push this film to PG-13. Toned down, this could've been a more family-friendly PG-rated film. Seeing as the nature of this film is more childish and cliched, kids would certainly get more out of this one.
However, because this has been marketed as a film for teens on up, audiences are expecting a rousing action film. What they're getting is a film that should've been tailored for children, where it certainly would've been more successful.
2/10

Joshua LF Mitchell