With the box-office proving repeatedly that 3D fantasy films do very well financially these days, it's no surprise that, following the successes of both Alice In Wonderland and Oz: The Great And Powerful, yet another contender would come along and attempt to do just as well.
Which brings us to: Jack The Giant Slayer.
Directed by Bryan Singer, the film merges Jack And The Beanstalk with Jack The Giant Killer to tell a story in as traditional a way as possible without having to resort to that recently in vogue steampunky Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters-style Hammer horror vibe. The film actually opens on our two main characters as kids in their respective beds, one is poor, one is a princess, being told fairy-tales involving giants and a world in between Heaven and Earth. Then the film stumbles around for a while feeling like a mix between a flat episode of Blackadder and an ugly, live-action retelling of Disney's Aladdin.
Seriously: this movie's Aladdin.
You've got a princess who likes to run away into town disguised as just another gal, she meets a young dude who saves her butt, falls in love with him, complains to her dad who is forcing her to marry his obviously evil right-hand-man, something magical kick-starts an adventure which brings both of them together, the kingdom's soon in peril but young dude saves the day and they all live happily ever after.
Sound familiar? I thought so.
But to give the movie credit, as ALADDIN as it is, Jack And The Beanstalk isn't exactly an overtold story cinematically and is hardly an obvious choice for a fairy-tale blockbuster so there is some originality there in terms of the movie's theme at least. If anything, the film is closer to Snow White & The Huntsman than Oz or Alice In Wonderland: it has its dark moments and overall keeps a relatively gritty atmosphere. That said, Jack The Giant Slayer is much crueler than Snow White. The depiction of the giants is almost sadistic in how it throws every disgusting, unpleasant image at you it can get away with. I mean you've got tongues being pierced with arrows, heads being bitten off, giant snot shots, real live pigs in blankets being skewered, people being squashed, heads exploding with 3D eyeballs flying out at you, the list goes on. But as amusingly, unnecessarily cruel as the film becomes, it can never really reconcile the originality of the world of the giants with that dull, predictable fairy-tale template its working with most of the time.
Sadly, Jack The Giant Slayer has other problems...
The look and tone of the film are both all over the place. Visually, the beanstalk-set sequences and the very 3D aspects of the world of the giants all look fab. Hence the cool trailers. However, an early sequence displays shockingly video game-level animation, the 3D in a lot of places is near missing and as detailed as those giants are, they never feel real and it's likely that 5 years from now, less even, audiences will look back on this film's visuals and groan. Tone-wise, it's never clear who the film is aimed at, what overall mood it's going for or why it's trying to mix such conflicting sensibilities together. The world of the humans is boring and cliched, the world of the giants mostly CG and surely too harsh for the younger viewers this seemed to be aimed at early on. The script also has its share of issues with countless groan-inducing lines, puns and jokes, a third act battle that comes in waaaay too late and characters about as subtly penned as cartoon picnic basket-stealing bears.
Stanley Tucci is admittedly entertaining as the mustache-twirlingly devious villain but would feel more at home in a Hanna Barbera animated version of the film I think, Ian McShane is the film's King and sadly feels underused, Ewan McGregor may sport a bit of a too-modern haircut but does well performance-wise, as does our lead Nicholas Hoult whom you feel deserves a tad better than this film. Other notable casting includes Bill Nighy as the booming voice of the lead giant, Ewen Bremner as Tucci's goofy sidekick and a fun Warwick Davis cameo.
All in all, Jack The Giant Slayer is a weird one. It doesn't feel like it was directed by someone as high profile as Bryan Singer, if anything it feels like a glorified B-movie. It's mostly bland, often clunky, overall uneven but not without the odd lol here and there. Entertainment-wise, it drags near the end but it basically works, it's odd enough to keep you relatively involved.
Oh and if you can leave before the laughable, and I mean laughable, "twist" ending: please do. It is simply... mind-boggling.
A giant "meh".