Is there any surer way to piss away a big budget than by handing control of a tent-pole movie over to Bryan Singer? Mind you, I’m not questioning Singer’s ability to generate a profit for studios; I’m more baffled by how the man can employ hundreds of millions of dollars to such generic effect. Singer’s latest flick, Jack the Giant Slayer, stolidly adheres to the definition of generic. Despite having access to a reported $200 million budget, Singer has created a movie where the CGI looks like CGI, the sets look like movie sets, the costumes look like costumes, and the props look like props. Everything about Jack the Giant Slayer is overly polished and lacking in any sort of charm or character.
Hollywood’s relentless effort to cannibalize well known fairytales continues here with a tepid retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. In this telling, however, the goose that lays the golden egg is replaced by a generic Disney princess and the giant is replaced by an army of computer generated monstrosities. If anything separates Singer’s tale from the recent spate of fairytale remakes, it’s Singer’s steadfast refusal to place anything like a creative stamp on the material.
Snow White and the Huntsman strove to make that tale dark and gritty and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters attempted to blend that folk tale with the style of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. Jack the Giant Slayer is merely bland. Almost offensively bland.
Probably the only aspect of the movie that works is the casting. Nicholas Hoult (who recently gave a terrific comedic performance in Warm Bodies) stars as Jack, the headstrong farmboy-turned-giant-slayer. Eleanor Tomlinson plays the young princess who finds herself kidnapped by giants after she crosses paths with Jack and Ewan McGregor turns in a decent performance as her sworn protector. Stanley Tucci rounds at the principal cast as the traitorous antagonist.
None of the performances here are fantastic—even Nicholas Hoult, who doesn’t have much of a resume at this point, has still turned in better performances elsewhere—but the cast is full of reliable actors. Hoult, McGregor, and Tucci plow through the ho-hum material, doing their best to make the proceedings interesting. They’re partially successful. Regardless of their efforts, however, the sheer blandness of the production overwhelms everything. Jack the Giant Slayer is so utterly forgettable that it almost defies description.
However, the film’s final battle sequence illustrates Singer’s approach to big budget filmmaking. There’s a shot used in big budget fantasy movies that I’ve come to detest. In the shot, we typically have two armies advancing on each other. One of the armies will have either a catapult or some organic equivalent of a catapult. The catapult—or in this case, rock hurling giant—will launch a large boulder into the opposing army’s camp. We then see the CGI boulder fly through the air and crash land in the midst of a CGI army, rolling through the ranks and crushing people.
I’m pretty sure that shot was first used by Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But those sequences were employed when the technology was new. Ever since The Lord of the Rings, however, every hack fantasy movie has employed that shot. It’s like shorthand for depicting an epic battle sequence without actually showing any real violence. The boulder is obviously fake and the people being crushed under the boulder are fake so there’s nothing objectionable there. In Jack the Giant Slayer’s final battle sequence, that same boring shot is employed at least half a dozen times. It’s lazy, unimaginative filmmaking.
And that’s Jack the Giant Slayer in a nutshell. Money and effort were expended on this production, but the final product is so safe and generic that one wonders how anyone managed to spend $200 million on it in the first place. There’s no creativity or imagination behind any of it; everything here is by-the-numbers.
Hopefully studios will stop giving so much money to Singer in the future. It’s as if his brain automatically shuts down when he’s handed a gargantuan check. He’s a better director than his big budget studio films suggest. The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil were clever, well-made films. But those were lower budget flicks. Perhaps he needs to go back to making films in that vein. If anything, I hope he is never again given the opportunity to create a film as listless as Jack the Giant Slayer.