“I went into town looking for a clever re-imagining of a known intellectual property, but all I came back with were these magic beans!”
Bryan Singer's “Jack the Giant Slayer”, another in a series of vaguely familiar tales given the in-your-face 3D CGI treatment, is this year's “Wrath of the Titans”. Same studio, same month of release, same inevitable slog toward a big swirling effects-heavy climax with rocks and fire being hurled all over the place. And same ephemeral quality in which it is highly likely you'll forget the movie by the time you go to bed. However, as someone who was once a ten year old boy and, when the lights are dim and the right movie is guiding me, who can occasionally reconnect with his previous self's mindset, I'll offer that certain sections of the movie aren't all bad. But the movie as a whole sure as hell ain't good.
After a horrifically rendered animation prologue that may get you habitually reaching for your PS3 controller to jab the cut-scene skipping “X” button, we find ourselves in the Kingdom of Cloister. It's your standard Princess-dwelling realm, though the clueless King (Ian McShane) and his moustache-twirling advisor (Stanley Tucci) and his Baldrick-like sidekick (Ewen Bremner, who may as well turn to the camera and say “duhhhhh”) make put it more on the side of “Shrek”'s Far Far Away than “Game of Throne”'s King's Landing.
Nichoulas Hoult is the poor, orphaned farmer boy who somehow catches the eye of the fair Princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) and they soon bond over their love of adventure books. Just as emotion is about to stir in them, the entire house quakes because of the seismic erection from a massive, growing beanstalk. See, evil Stanley Tucci stole the magic beans (and the charmed crown) from the crypt with the intention of ... oh, really, it doesn't matter. All you need to know is the Princess is trapped “up there” and Jack has to get her back (no such thought is given to the cute cat who offers up all these wonderful reaction shots, but then is, I dunno, left to starve once calamity happens).
The King allows Jack on the rescue, along with Tucci, Bremner, Eddie Marsan ("En-Ra-Ha" forever!) and, most importantly, Ewan McGregor, who gets to be a dashing good guy and seems to be really enjoying himself.
The gang climb the beanstalk and find the land of the mythical Giants (annoying note of obnoxious logic: this place is clearly on some sort of terra firma. Indeed, there are cliffs and waterfalls all over the place. This must mean there is an enormous rock shelf somewhere nearby . . .and yet we never see it and it is never addressed. Just saying is all.) It is during this section that the movie is best, when the Giants first reveal themselves and Jack must prove himself. Indeed, when McGregor actually quoted himself as Obi-Wan (“I've got a bad feeling about this”) I could hear the voice of 10 year old nephews everywhere shouting “awesome!”
Soon, though, the movie makes two fatal mistakes. It (spoiler alert) kills off the villain too soon and all we're left with are these computer generated, unknowable, farting beasts who start to stomp around and kill things. There is a fun rescue sequence where the humans are tiny (reminiscent of “The Borrowers” or, say, every episode of “The Smurfs”), but there's just no way to have any emotional attachment to the creatures, or even care about the temporary threat they serve. Sometimes they are meant to be scary, sometimes they are meant to be funny. The only ones with names are “Fee, Fie, Foe and Fum.” Just imagine how many people had to approve that idea before it ended up in the final cut.
The finale back on Cloister certainly has lots of energy, and much of the action is good, but with zero connection to the characters (and nothing at stake with the bad guy dead) I'd be lying if I wasn't hoping they'd wrap things up as quickly as possibly.
It's interesting, because some of the movie looks dreadful, but some of the scenes – the scenes without the overbearing CG – are filled with striking images. There's chiaroscuro lighting, color saturation and evocative framing all over the place – it's just too bad you have to suffer through lines like “he'll spill the beans!” along with it.