Bryan Singer has made some truly great movies. The Usual Suspects is easily one of the best crime thrillers out there, with one of the best twists in movie history, and – in Keiser Soze – one of the great movie mythic villains.
In the launch of the X-Men movie franchise, he brought Hugh Jackman to American audiences, something we’re eternally grateful for. And while you may be iffy on X-Men and some of the casting (Iman is Storm, Halle Berry is not quite), the second one is absolutely fantastic.
I heard it once said of Darren Aranofsky’s The Fountain (perhaps the worst movie I have ever seen) that it takes a really great director to make something that truly terrible. That being said, Singer has had some major flaws in his history, most notably Superman Returns. It wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t good. It was overly long, overly ambitious, and overly preachy.
My expectations for Singer’s Jack and the Giant Slayer were fairly high. I should have been wary due to the fact that it was originally Jack the Giant Killer and due for a June 2012 release. It’s finally out, and it is a spectacle.
It has some great moments. The story is average, but improved on the original 1807 fairy tale in which a farm boy trades a cow for some magic beans, climbs up the resulting beanstalk three times, stealing each time (bag of gold, golden egg-laying hen, and self-playing harp), then being chased down the final time by the giant, he cuts down the beanstalk, killing the giant. In Singer’s version, Jack is attempting to sell a horse and cart in town, develops a crush on the princess, gives a desperate monk the horse in exchange for the magic beans (see, many years ago there was a war between the giants and men, and these monks made a crown to control them and hid the beans that created the bridge between worlds – and now a villain is after both – you know, to control the giants and take over the kingdom, then the world). Jack accidentally gets the princess stuck in a house as the beanstalk grows up underneath it. The king sends his guards to go up after the princess, Jack volunteers to go with, and unbeknownst to any of them, the villain who wants the rule the giants goes too. Chaos and CGI giants ensue.
Jack doesn’t steal anything in this version, though he does come across both a golden egg and the harp – both seeming to make cameos. He does rescue the princess and help the kingdom stave off the giant attack.
The movie seems uneven from the start. While some scenes are gorgeous and lush, with beautiful landscapes and colors, there are a number of scenes that are dark, colorless, and difficult to see – made worse by the 3D glasses. The 3D, by the way, was pretty good. I also felt like the tone was uneven. Ian McShane and Stanley Tucci seemed to think they were in two different movies: Tucci in a silly kid’s campy story; and McShane in an elegant fairy tale (again, see Stardust if you haven’t). The giants are okay, but I think my expectations of the CGI were higher than they delivered on, and most of them are ugly and stupid. There’s even an appeal to the base line of comedy – fart jokes. Clearly the movie is meant for kids, and this is the first PG13 movie I’ve seen in a while. It made me appreciate the raunchy, profanity-laden Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters even more!
The cast was one of the things that had me most excited about this movie:
· Nicholas Hoult, who was wonderful in Warm Bodies and X-Men First Class (and About A Boy – if you want to go back that far) is good in this. Jack comes off a little flat throughout most of the movie, and is honestly the most interesting in the beginning when attempting to sell the horse. From that point on, it’s a lot of running and yelling.
· Eleanor Tomlinson is fine as the princess, Isabelle. She doesn’t have a lot to do except pout about being a princess, and not getting to live her own life. It’s pretty much what all fairy-tale princesses pout about. She learns her lesson when she takes off to find adventure and ends up in a beanstalk-wrapped cabin, then as a giant prisoner (not a really big prisoner, but a prisoner of giants…you knew what I meant).
· Ewan McGregor is really great in this, and I would say is the one person who nailed the tone: fun and lighthearted, not too serious, not too campy. Also – the best hair in the movie. He plays the king’s number one guard who goes after the princess.
- Eddie Marsan plays Ewan’s number two guard, and seems to be there to warn everyone about how dangerous everything is.
· Stanley Tucci is usually genius, (see Easy A if you haven’t), and is funny in this, but again, just seems a bit off. He plays it like a campy kids movie which is fine, except he’s playing the main villain, so I’d have liked the character a little darker.
· Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting – what did he and McGregor talk about on set, I wonder?) plays Tucci’s number one henchman – and if Tucci is playing like this is a campy kid’s movie, Bremner takes it one step further, playing it like it’s a campy Adam Sandler kids movie. Nevermind, go watch him in AVP again, where he was really good.
· Ian McShane plays the king, and does so really well. Again, seems to not fit with anyone else, but maybe that’s because he’s the king, and has to take things more serious than everyone else? Also – the costuming is odd.
· Bill Nighy provides the voice/performance of the Giant general. Not much to say there, he does a good job, and gives the general some personality beyond the other giants. He’s great, but then, I kept thinking I would rather be watching him play Victor in Underworld.
· Warwick Davis is in this, he has a small part. Sorry, couldn’t resist, but it’s true.
All in all, I think this is one of those situations where my expectations were too high and I was disappointed by the final result. The giants weren’t as intimidating as I wanted them to be, mainly because they were mostly played for laughs. The exception was the one named Fum (of the Fee, Fie, Foe fame). He clearly had some plans of his own, they never come to fruition, but the potential was there.
People are mentioning this along the lines of John Carter last year, and other notable bombs. The budget was near $190 million, and it’s only made around $30 million so far. I’m sure it will make it up overseas. If you see it, see it in 3D, but by all means, go during the day and do not pay full price.
6 out of 10 – above average, but just barely. Gained points for McGregor’s hair, it’s amazing. Lost points for Tucci’s fake (?) teeth, what is going on there? Gained points for Fum, but lost points for Fum not getting to start the giant uprising I wanted. Gained points for the last scene, the very last scene where we find out what becomes of the mystic crown that controls giants and who is looking at it right at the very very end. Now that was interesting – almost enough to make me want to see where they could go from there!!!
Bonus Video 1: AVP – like I said, Bremner’s great in this. I loved it, even though a lot of people did not.
Bonus Video 2: Willow – hey, Warwick Davis had a really big part in this, and it’s one of the best epic fairy tale movies ever.
Bonus Video 3: The Fountain – I’m not kidding, one of the worst movies ever made.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: