We comic Geeks see the world differently. Our brains are wired in nine panel grids, bursting with Krackling Kirby energy. We are discerning and always, always looking for a good story. We have visceral responses to stories and we have a lifetime of comics written by the masters to compare every film experience to. So welcome to the column that will filter movies Through the Comic Book Brain.
Despite a subpar first act Jack The Giant Slayer, the latest of a long string of modern retellings of classic fairy tales, ends with a thrilling bang.
It’s getting crowded out there for the fairy tales. It seems like every month a new project is either released or green lit involving some kind of fairy tale send up. It’s become so common, it’s almost becoming formulaic. Take the familiar tropes of a beloved fairy tale, tone down the color, give the film a realistic feel, have realistic looking settings and costumes instead of classic fairy tale fare, cast some hot young star and there you go. Jack the Giant Slayer seemed to be heading in the same direction as the other cookie cutter fairy tales pouring out of Hollywood, but us comic Geeks know better when Bryan Singer is involved, oh, yes we do.
The man who arguably kicked off the modern super-hero film craze with his X-Men freshens up a genre that just went stale. The film starts out weak, with a paint-by-numbers introduction to the main players and the establishment of how the world of Giants works within the context of the real world. So, It seems these monks grew some magic beans to reach God, but somewhere between Earth and heaven there is a dimension filled with Giants that love the taste of man flesh and chaos. The monks resort to black magic to forge a crown, made from a Giant’s heart that can control the race of Giants.
Nothing wrong with the established mythology other than the stylistic choice of telling said mythology through the use of sub-X-Box 360 level cut scene special effects. God knows, the rest of the movie’s effects kick nineteen types of ass, so why does the opening animation look so bush league? It effectively takes the audience straight out of the narrative whenever it feels like you need to hit “X” on your controller to continue.
Rest assured, Singer and his awesome cast quickly grab attention back through the sheer charm of the story and the relentlessness of the action. The nerdverse fell in love with Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy in X-Men: First Class and he continues to shine as Jack. Jack is a simple farm boy, who goes through all the steps of the very familiar fairy tale. Jack, horse, sold, beans, princess and beanstalk. He quickly meets and falls in love with Eleanor Tomlinson’s Princess Isabelle, a woman who wants to prove her independence to her father, the kindly King Brahmwell, played by the ever awesome Ian McShane. Add to the mix Isabelle’s fiancé, the evil and opportunistic Roderick, played by Stanley Tucci and the kickass captain of the guard, Elmont, played by Ewan McGregor and you have a cast for Singer to work magic with.
Brahmwell sends Elmont and his guards up the beanstalk to fetch Isabelle, who is taking refuge from a storm in Jack’s house when the beanstalk grows. Jack volunteers, along with Roderick and up we go, all conflicts and intrigues neatly established.
Now of course, there is the climbing scene. As any fan of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 knows, there is nothing more tedious than a climbing scene. Singer keeps it to a minimum and just uses it to establish that Jack has a fear of heights and Roderick is a raging dick. Of course, the entire film is designed to make the very human Jack display his cunning and bravery. Signer’s Jack, deftly played by Hoult, is so likable and genuine that you will find yourself rooting for him even in the most predictable of scenes.
The memorable stars of the movie are the Giants; CGI’ed badasses of the most humbling variety. Singer makes the creatures not just fairy tale clichés, but truly horrific forces of nature, both violent and cruel. Imagine the Hills Have Eyes mutants, but twenty stories tall and hungrier. They appear to be misshapen, inbred monstrosities who live only to devour and plunder. Singer, perhaps unwisely, chooses to go for a few fart and burp jokes, maybe to ease the tension for the kiddies, but there is an awful lot of heads being bitten like grapes in this film, so all the base humor can be easily overlooked.
Of course, Roderick gets his hands on the crown and plans to lead his new army of Giants to take over Albion, but things don’t go exactly as planned for Roderick, thanks to Elmont. Ewan McGregor plays his role straight and totally sells a premise that could fall apart in lesser hands. He plays second banana to Jack, but his growing approval of Jack as Jack goes from awkward farm boy to brave slayer, allows the audience to revel in Jack’s triumphs.
The film’s third act is the reason to plop down your dollars for this film. The Giants lay siege to Albion in a way that simply has to be seen to be believed. The audience feels the potency of these monsters, who use flaming trees and hurled church bells as weapons. The move is so darned impressive because the premise is so paper thin that it can unravel at any second, but doesn’t through the sheer likability of the cast and Singer’s trademark breakneck pacing.
The score by Jack Ottman cannot be overlooked as it adds emotional resonance and majesty to proceedings that could have been silly and overblown in the hands of lesser talents.
Jack the Giant Slayer doesn’t break any new ground, but it entertainingly navigates the familiar ground of a genre that was in danger of getting stale.
Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars