Hill of Beans
Fairy tales, legends, fables and public domain myths have been pouring out of Hollywood lately, usually to no avail. The worst of these are last season’s Riding Hood take (with werewolves yet) and this season’s Hansel and Gretel steal (grow’d up, they’re witch hunters); the Oz tales (mostly owned) are being re-“done” (see separate review, opposite page).
And now here comes Jack the Giant Slayer, with terrific special effects, odd casting, “added” material, a slow beginning (we know the story well enough) and with about three endings. (This movie cannot let go of itself–sometimes more is less.)
Prestige credits present themselves: The director and writer of The Usual Suspects, with companion tekkies, are up to their smart tricks here. After an inexplicably redundant beginning, this thing gets going as a beautifully plotted adventure yarn before it’s compromised by too many endings.
Director Bryan Singer and his “suspects” writer Christopher McQuarrie are really good at sustaining suspense, making the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner. Why Singer added two more writers (credited with the story, no less) is another mystery–but not a compelling one. The middle hour of the film is first rate: good action sequence after sequence, and well-done CGI when the army of ugly giants appears in Act II. All quite grim (no pun intended).
Ah yes, the casting. Jack, the humble peasant lad who trades horse and cart for magic beans, is played by Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man, Warm Bodies), just slightly more beautiful than his leading lady, princess of the land about to be invaded (Act III) by them Giants.
Hoult is not quite up to the task, and has to be edited quite carefully to suggest grace and line delivery. He’s rather sweet, but the heavy lifting is pretty much handled by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) as his sidekick of sorts–too bad McGregor was a little too old for Hoult’s role. Then, too, the movie wanders into High Camp with Stanley Tucci, apparently still stricken by his Hunger Games shenanigans.
Okay. The beanstalk grows, and Jack and the Princess and McGregor (and others soon to be eaten) climb up to find themselves in Giantsville, where good stuff happens, movie-wise. Some of these incidents (Jack to be baked in a pie, etc.) are from the fairy tales, some are courtesy of other adventure flicks, but all are done expertly–this movie really gets going, with more McGuffins than any movie in a long while.
Back to the princess’s land, invaded in the last third of this longish story by the giants, who really know how to demolish castles. Even the king (Ian McShane) gets his hands dirty here, killing along with mere commoners.
What’s lacking though is any real sense of magic–there’s high-tech wizardry but no sense of awe. See Life of Pi for how it should be done–and why. Myths have true magic; our age has technology. Pardon the cynicism, but it’s not a fair trade.
Audiences, after being agreeably pummeled by Jack’s CGI battles and beatings, did not leave the theater looking enchanted–rather the opposite.
Sometimes too much is just not enough.