When you hear the name Bryan Singer, most film fans will immediately think of the first two X-Men film entries (and the new, upcoming one) or even the war drama Valkyrie (or, if you’re a diehard film fan, you’ll know he helmed The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil in the 90s). What you probably wouldn’t think of him being a part of, though, is a fantastical adventure film like Jack The Giant Slayer. For 2013, Singer offered something completely different for audiences than what he normally does by bringing to the big screen a familiar tale with a new spin on it — something that you might think would be fun for the whole family. However, Singer gives the story an edge that will make parents want to think twice before showing it to their children.
I suppose opting for a title like Jack The Giant Slayer over Jack and the Bean Stalk, and giving it a PG-13 rating, indeed clarifies for audiences what kind of movie it is. It’s certainly a modernized version of the “Jack and the Bean Stalk” story, and it maintains the period feel of the story while being given a unique spin. For example, because giants are mythical creatures–particularly in this context–they’re created entirely using CGI here, and their appearance is made to look humanoid with earthy elements added to make them appear more fantastical. Furthermore, because Singer tries to give the story a unique look, some of the costumes, and even some of the language they use border on being anachronisms. When one of the giants dies while speaking the “F” word during the climax, it feels completely out of place and just included to either elicit a laugh or merely surprise the audience. Also, Jack’s costume, as a farm boy, is made up of a leather jacket with a hood on it. It looks cool in the movie, but the chances of a farm boy in this era wearing something similar is rather unlikely (In some ways, this movie’s approach can be compared to A Knight’s Tale). Still, the very biggest problem Jack The Giant Slayer possesses is in the look of the titular giants. There isn’t a moment in the movie when the giants don’t look fake. Where movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Transformers, or even as far back as Jurassic Park, offer photorealistic animation, the poorly rendered giants in Jack The Giant Slayer look cheesy and fake in every scene. It’s almost as if the movie we’re watching is some kind of unfinished product. To make matters worse, the opening storytelling animatic looks more like previsualization test animation and not completed animation. The animatic tells the story of mankind versus the giants as a legend, and it’s not until the camera zooms in on one of the humans in the story that we see they’re supposed to be wooden characters in a deliberately stylized fairytale telling. Still, such storytelling has been done exquisitely better before, making this look sophomoric at best.
It’s all so very unfortunate because, if you can look past the cheesy animation, Jack The Giant Slayer is a really fun action/adventure movie. Everyone in the cast turns in solid performances, with Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) being great as the lead, while Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci are great supports for the cast. Eleanor Tomlinson is lovely as Isabelle, the feisty princess in distress. Also, Singer utilizes some real, tangible set pieces, like parts of the bean stalk and portions of the king’s castle and giants’ lair, that make the story easier to grasp. There’s a great set piece where McGregor’s Elmont is being prepared by a cook in the kitchen (while Isabelle is in a nearby cage) that is amusing and fun to watch unfold. It’s just a shame that Singer’s approach to the sets and giants are uneven in quality.
The content for Jack The Giant Slayer is intense at times. While it can be pretty violent, it’s seldom graphic. However, it’s implied that a man’s head and arms are bitten off when a giant picks him up and brings him to his mouth. I’d read that this movie was a little more gory than it seemed to be, which makes me wonder if they decided to tone some of the blood and such down for the Blu-Ray release (but it’s possible I missed some of the more graphic details somehow?). Other moments show giants smacking people unconscious or swatting them with weapons, tossing them into the air. One giant spits out a man’s armor after eating him whole, and in another shot we see the bones of one of its victims inside the stomach of a giant as the camera zooms down its throat into its belly. This is kind of a spoiler, but it’s also the most graphic moment of the movie; a stalk grows out of a giant near the climax of the movie and we see it sprout out of the giant’s neck, body and face. And, at one point, it says a semi-interrupted “Oh, f—” (most of the word is said though) before their head explodes and an eyeball flies at the screen. We then see the hand hit the ground and one of its fingers lay dismembered. It’s the most gruesome moment in the movie, but most of the other scenes are pretty intense or would be potentially frightening to younger viewers. There’s a little bit of other language in the movie, but it’s mostly the usage of the word “h*ll.”
Overall, I liked Jack The Giant Slayer far more than I expected to. I had to force myself to forgive the lame animation of the giants to fully enjoy the film. It’s a flawed and imperfect movie for sure, but fans of fairytales, fantasy stories like “Jack and the Bean Stalk” and any of the cast are likely to find some things about Jack The Giant Slayer to really enjoy.