I’m going to start this review off with a confession: I had absolutely no interest in this movie at all. Seriously. It was frustrating for me too, because it featured elements that I like (Ewan McGregor, Bryan Singer, a fantasy setting), but for some reason, none of the trailers or commercials sparked my interest. It looked…ok, but not something I felt like I had to check out in theaters. So when I went into this press screening, I held very little expectations for the film. I’m glad to say that I walked away pleasantly surprised.
The Double Edged Sword
Jack the Giant Slayer is an interesting film in that just about everything I enjoyed most about the film is also where it seemed to run into issues. In essence, it created this double-edged sword for itself which kept this film from being an out of the park home-run. Is it good? Yes, I found it quite entertaining and a blast to watch, but it’s held back from achieving greatness. Let’s talk about this for a bit.
The film is set up and essentially told as though it were a fairy tale. This works incredibly well for the film as it features a lot of fantastical things that just wouldn’t work, if it tried to take itself too seriously. In typical fairytale fashion the characters are more over the top and archetypal, thus they can sometimes come off as cartoony. While the giants in the film are incredibly well rendered CGI constructs, it is also very apparent that they’re computer generated. They don’t exactly stand out for their realism. Yet they absolutely fit within in that fairy tale setting, and they don’t have to be more realistic. In the overall context of how the film’s presented, the giants strike the right note between stylistic and real enough to fit in with everything else.
Here’s where the fairytale aspect turns against them though. Because it’s set up as a classical type story, it falls into many of the same traps. Many things in the plot of the film happen by convenience, with little to no explanation for how things got that way. These magical artifacts on which the story unfolds (the magic beans and the Giant controlling crown) were supposed to be buried with a great King in order to keep them safe, as explained at the start of the film, yet Roderick has managed to steal them both. There’s no explanation for how he found them and went about procuring them… he just did.
There are other parts where characters go from one location to another without any consideration given to how they got there. When Jack sneaks into the Giants’ hideout he just sort of ends up from point to point within the keep, managing to get exactly where he needs to be, without the trouble of seeing how he got there. This happens a lot in the movie, things that need to be in a certain location or doing a certain thing are suddenly there. This is fitting with traditional style fairytale adventures, and while I can’t say it hurt the film, they felt like missed opportunities to expand on the story and ‘break the mold’.
The same problem crops up with the acting. On the whole, I think just about everyone did a great job in their roles. They were fun to watch and completely fit the characters they were portraying. Nothing felt out of place in terms of the acting jobs. Obviously this is a good thing, but the problem comes from the fact that since it’s fairytale style, the characters are meant to be over the top and thus can come off as ‘hammy’ at times.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, and I have the sneaking suspicion that this is how they were told to play these roles, but because of this none of the performances can be considered ground-breaking. The only stand out performance has to go to Ewan McGregor. He absolutely stole the show on this one and by far is the most memorable person in the film. He’s still over the top, still hammy at times, but he does it so well you can’t help but love him.
The Third Dimension
My disdain for all things 3D is fairly well known. I have never cared for it, and haven’t seen a movie where I thought it made a difference or impact on how I perceived the film. After watching Slayer in 3D, I can’t say that opinion has changed. It still feels like a gimmick to me and doesn’t add anything to the story. If I were to watch this film in traditional 2D, I wouldn’t feel as though I’m missing out on something.
That being said, if you’re into the 3D scene, Jack the Giant Slayer does a decent job of it. The depth of field work is pretty good and film makes good use of the technology aside from the obligatory “oh look it’s coming right for the camera” stuff. That’s the best compliment I feel I can give to just about any 3D effect; it’s not bad.
Sticking to Your Guns
Jack the Giant Slayer is by far one of the best examples of the archetypal hero’s journey stories that I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a prime example of this type of storytelling, this movie is a great way to go. Once again, this also becomes an issue for the film. Because of this, the film is incredibly easy to predict and featured little, to no, tension at all. You never feel as if the heroes are in any real danger, and at just about any point in the film you can guess what’s going to come next.
There weren’t any surprises when it came to the film and it ends just as you expect it to. This isn’t inherently bad (as I said, it’s still a great example of this brand of storytelling), but once again it feels as though the movie missed out on some great opportunities to delve deeper and create a real sense of drama and tension during key moments. When I say there’s no tension, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great set pieces visually. The battles look cool, and there are still several of those “wow” moments throughout the film, just don’t expect to be surprised.
Jack the Giant Slayer was a fun movie that proved highly entertaining. It’s high adventure and fantasy of the classical sort, which we don’t see much of these days. The only real problem comes from it’s adherence to traditional storytelling elements that prevent the film from providing a deeper and more memorable experience. It’s a movie that’s good for the entire family and all ages will find enjoyment from it. I feel it’s worth the price of admission.
Jack the Giant Slayer (in theaters March 1st) gets a 7.5 out of 10