From classics such as The Princess Bride to modern masterpieces such as The Lord of the Rings, tales of magic and adventure are still delighting us in an often less than fantastical reality. Though the genre is alive and kicking, many of its offspring are not. Jack the Giant Slayer displays all the trappings of an engaging epic, but none of the fun or charm.
Drawing from English folklore, namely “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer,” the film tells the story of Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a hapless farm boy who falls for a lovely princess named Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). His love life is put on hold, however, when some mysterious beans he acquires from a monk grow into a monstrous beanstalk, taking the princess up into the sky. Now it is up to Jack, alongside Isabelle’s scheming future husband Roderick and some brave knights, to climb the stalk and rescue her. But nothing could prepare them for the ancient terror that waits at the top.
This could have been a great movie. It could have been funny and whimsical, taking full advantage of its silly premise to deliver a tongue-in-cheek romp. Instead, Jack the Giant Slayer is extremely boring. None of the characters are interesting, the script is paper thin, and there is a distinct lack of humor.
Characters in fantasy films are supposed to be larger than life, but there is no Gandalf or Harry Potter to be found here. And although he is brave, Jack is exceedingly plain, showing no personality at all. Hoult is a fine actor, but he seems to be sleepwalking through his lines, and in the end it’s hard to root for such a mundane character.
The other characters don’t fare much better. The princess serves no ostensible purpose other than being a damsel in distress, and Tomlinson seems also to be asleep at the wheel. Stanley Tucci is appropriately hammy as the villainous Roderick, but his character is a forgettable twerp, not a formidable villain. Ian McShane and Ewan McGregor play the king and head knight respectively, and what could have been an interesting dynamic amounts to nothing more than empty suits of armor.
Then there are the giants. Though the computer graphics are impressive, aiding to the movie’s great visual style, these lumbering behemoths basically just grunt and kill. They could have been the most interesting thing in the movie, but instead become two dimensional wrecking machines.
Even bland characterization can be tempered with a sharp script. Sadly this is the film’s weakest aspect. Funny jokes are nonexistent, and actors are often stuck with groan-inducing and cliché-ridden dialogue. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) mistakenly gives the film an overly serious tone which robs the story of any sense of fun.
Despite all my misgivings, the film is not a complete disaster. The battle scenes are impressive and some parts are truly thrilling. But Jack the Giant Slayer is so bland and boring it’s hard to care. Skip the expensive movie ticket and re-watch Lord of the Rings instead.