Review: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)


Cast: , ,
Director: Bryan Singer
Country: USA
Genre: Adventure | Drama | Fantasy
Official Trailer: Here

Editor’s Notes: Jack the Giant Slayer opens in wide release this Friday. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below.

It doesn’t sound kosher to smack a fantasy film for being unrealistic. I fully understand that Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy epic – one based on a child’s fairy tale, to boot. But watching the finished product, with its transparently fake landscapes and B-level effects and harsh green screen over-lighting, has the effect of watching a well-meaning but horribly produced high school play. Respected actors walk around playing dress-up and swinging daggers at discomforting fake stone creatures while surrounded by a giant beanstalk that looks like a slightly more sophisticated replica of a Sid and Marty Krofft practical effect. By the end, I was disappointed that H.R. Pufnstuf didn’t show up.

…watching the finished product, with its transparently fake landscapes and B-level effects and harsh green screen over-lighting, has the effect of watching a well-meaning but horribly produced high school play.

We’re all familiar with the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story: magic beans, soaring beanstalk, land of giants, “fee-fi-fo-fum.” That children’s story is based on the Cornish folk tale titled “Jack the Giant Killer,” which is decidedly not for children…it involves a young farm boy cutting off the legs and slicing open the stomachs of various giants during King Arthur’s reign. This supercharged film adaptation, directed by Bryan Singer, attempts to bridge the gap between the two dichotomous versions of the classic story, crafting a story that is simple and innocent enough for children with action violence that is gooey and gory enough to push right up to the edge of PG-13. I’m not opposed to pushing boundaries and making an edgier family film – to that end, Singer’s vision is at least valid and interesting. On the screenplay level, however, the film is bland, obvious, and old-fashioned. And on the craft level, it’s an ugly mess.

The story sets up two explicitly linked characters—young farmer’s son Jack and feisty princess Isabelle. As children, Jack and Isabelle are separated by class structure but psychically linked by their love for the legend of the giants, who are said to live in a land “between heaven and earth.” The only link between our world and the giants’ is a massive beanstalk grown from mystical beans…but it was long ago cut down, ridding the earth of imminent threat from the marauding giants. As they grow into young adults, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a lowly farmhand and Isabella (Eleanor Tomlinson) is heir to the British throne. But gender roles trump societal roles as the film unfolds, as Jack becomes the hero with the magic beans who must save the young princess who is tangled in a web of vines.

Such a predictable premise underlines one of the film’s central problems – Singer is aiming to revolutionize a classic fairy tale, but this screenplay feels older than Grimm. Especially on the heels of the rampant dissection of Seth MacFarlane’s sexism at the Oscars, it’s awkward that this first wide release since the Oscar telecast is inherently traditional in its gender representations. Jack is a humble, awkward errand boy and Isabella is a defiant princess with a desire for independence, but once the story hits its stride, Jack transforms into a swashbuckler and Isabella becomes window dressing. She is the damsel and Jack is the knight in shining armor. I guess the princess only yearns for independence until she’s swallowed up in a twist of sky-high beanstalk vines—at that point, her ass needs saved.

Singer focuses all his energy on the film’s action, which is bluntly violent and increasingly intense, especially in the third act. The action is constructed with a lot of creativity…

Since he was able to reserve his ingenuity in terms of storytelling, Singer focuses all his energy on the film’s action, which is bluntly violent and increasingly intense, especially in the third act. The action is constructed with a lot of creativity, so all script issues aside, Jack the Giant Slayer might have generated some dumb thrills…if only it looked good. But it doesn’t; it looks ugly. The dominant color in the film’s palette is mud. The giants are crudely animated by current VFX standards. The landscapes are marred with practical effects that look like they’re made of some sort of foam/papier-mâché combo. The CG beanstalk isn’t much prettier. The effects work is less glaring as the film progresses, since the camera moves at a faster pace as the action ramps up. But a decent third act can only mildly make up for a screenplay that not only wastes the bright young talents, but also some respected character actors, from Ewan McGregor and Stanly Tucci to Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan. Jack the Giant Slayer does indeed slay a great many in its path – unfortunately, that includes the great cast and an unsuspecting audience.

[notification type=”star”]47/100 ~ BAD. It’s hard to determine which is uglier: Jack the Giant Slayer’s effects or its screenplay…[/notification]


About Author

I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.

  • Chris D. Misch

    It’s good to see Nicholas Hoult back in movies. Didn’t think I’d see him again after About A Boy, which was fantastic by the way.

  • acharlie

    I’m worried about this one. From the first teaser the special effects looked extremely poor. So much talent involved. Box Office Mojo forecasts a box office bomb, will be a tough blow at $200m+marketing.

  • Bryan Murray

    A group of friends and I saw this film at an advance screening a week ago and we were all well entertained . This may not be a great movie , but if you just want to turn off your brain and have a great time and be entertained , do see it . By the way , it is much better than most of the current films out there and it doesn’t insult anyone like the film 21 and Over

  • Chris D. Misch

    Wow didn’t realize there was a 200M+ budget. For that amount of money you’d think that would buy you some pretty solid special effects. Either way I’m likely to see it tonight as I don’t believe Stoker is playing anywhere nearby.

  • Pete Volk

    This film interests me - there’s been a lot of polarized reactions, between you and others who hated it and others like Richard Roeper who really enjoyed it. Mind you, it’s not enough to make me want to SEE the film (I’m guessing I’d side with you, Jason), but I find it fascinating

  • Shari Ballon

    Well I see there’s quite the difference. I think I’ll wait & see it eventually. I also agree with Bryan, there isn’t much to see out there of any substance.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Have you seen Side Effects, Shari? One of my early favourites of the year thus far.

  • Chris D. Misch

    I’ll soon be able to toss my opinion into the ring after my screening this evening. I’m going into the screening with caution. My anticipation for the film never was very high.

  • JasonMcKiernan

    Well, we clearly need to have a little convo about Side Effects…

  • JasonMcKiernan

    Love About a Boy. So wonderful. And for a better Nicholas Hoult film, look no further than Warm Bodies.

  • JasonMcKiernan

    I truly believe this is a bomb in the making.

  • acharlie

    Yep that’s what a $200m bomb looks like =/

  • acharlie

    After watching the film I have to side with you Jason. I was alarmed at the violence in the final act, I was concerned for the small children in the audience. Hard to recommend this to anyone.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Kids are exposed to so much these days. There is nothing in Jack the Giant Slayer that I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing them.

  • JasonMcKiernan

    Just because kids are exposed to so much these days doesn’t mean they should be, nor does it mean they should automatically be permitted to see more and more. That said, as I mentioned in my review, pushing the limits of ooey-gooey monster goop is one of the elements that I thought worked moderately well in the context of the film. Also, the intensity of the action was something I feel comfortable trusting my kids to deal with.

    However, to generalize that it’s all okay for all kids is missing the nuance of the situation. Some kids, with the appropriate combination of nature and nurture, will certainly be able to handle stuff like this. But others simply cannot and should not. It is all subjective. Case-by-case basis.

    Far more insidious than goopy giants is the notion, ingrained in our culture and continuously perpetuated in every form of media, that boys’ aspirations outweight girls’, and that the boys must always be tasked with saving the gentille (read: “do-nothing”) females. This film in particular sets up a purposeful dichotomy: both the boy and the girl are invigorated by the same story. Then, the boy grows into the hero and the girl grows into a wallflower. It is not explicitly “sexist,” but it is absolutely sexist by nature, because the culture is sexist by design. Until someone has the balls to flip the script, we will be subjected to the same stale narrative constructs.

    And that, by far, is more dangerous for impressionable kids than monster goop.

  • Jane Chen

    I personally really enjoyed watching this film. I do not think its too violent, kids are exposed to much more violence than what was shown in this movie. In my opinion, it was a fairytale with a happy ending, exactly like all other fairytales i have watched.

  • Chris D. Misch

    Exactly. The film is a fairytale. Maybe it doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of story or screenplay, but its fun and that still counts for something.

  • Chris D. Misch

    I would love to. :)

  • Chris D. Misch

    I completely agree kids these days have seen and are seeing too much, but Jack the Giant Killer is hardly a violent movie. I can’t even think of a moment off the top of my head where I felt it was too violent for its target audience.

  • acharlie

    I agree with you Jason. For a moment I thought I might be in for a pleasant surprise when Isabelle showed a glimpse of strength. Once she was whisked away her character became completely useless. Would have been great to see a strong female character.

  • Chris D. Misch

    About A Boy is such a lovely film! Still need to catch Warm Bodies!