Bryan Singer Slays Our Expectations

Jack the Giant Slayer is a decent enough kids’ movie, I suppose, although it might be a bit too violent for most children under twelve.  The annoying, noisy kid sitting behind me at the screening seemed to be enjoying it quite a lot, based on his running commentary.  What it isn’t is particularly remarkable or memorable.  This isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie; in fact, like Men in Black 3 last year, it’s perfectly okay.

The film does benefit from a strong cast, including possible new it-kid flavor-of-the-month Nicholas Hoult (currently starring in the far-superior Warm Bodies, and returning next year as Beast in Bryan Singer’s X-Men:  Days of Future Past), Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McShane.  Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give them a plethora of good material to work with, and as a result, the movie probably would have been just as good with a B-list cast.  Possibly even better, as less established, more hungry actors probably would have relished their roles more.  The A-level actors here seem to be slumming it, and seem to know they’re slumming it.  It’s a similar situation as to last month’s Hansel and Gretel:  Witch Hunters; another overblown fairy tale (albeit one that was a lot more fun than this one is) in which Gemma Arterton was a lot more enjoyable to watch than Jeremy Renner, who seemed to spend the whole film thinking about how he was too good to be in the movie.

Bill Nighy towers above the rest of the cast as General Fallon

In Jack the Giant Slayer, the actor who seems to be having the most fun (and as a result, is the most fun to watch in the film) is Bill Nighy, although his performance as the lead Giant, General Fallon, is entirely motion-captured.  Like Andy Serkis, Nighy has shown a real gift for motion-capture performance, previously bringing great humanity and gravitas to the character of Davy Jones in the second and third films in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.  His Giant General is a snarling, ravenous monster, and yet Nighy still imbues him with just the right level of sophistication, cunning, and even the slightest amount of pathos.

Which brings me to the giants.  They’re certainly impressive enough to look at, although they are still obviously CGI.  They are also more-or-less one-dimensional.  The movie teases us early on with the idea that there may be two sides to the stories in ancient legends of a human-giant war that sets up the mythology of the film, but nothing ever comes of this.  There are three credited writers on the screenplay, and a fourth writer with story credit, and who knows how many uncredited writers.  It’s possible that there was a version of the story with more creative nuance, but that it was written out in favour of making the bad guys that much more obviously bad.  We may never know one way or the other.  What I do know is that my hopes for an interesting third act reveal in which we learn that the giants may not be as monstrous as they seem were dashed by another run-of-the-mill big epic fantasy battle throw down.

At least the story, somewhat slow and plodding up until that point, picks up somewhat during the final battle, but the battle itself is underwhelming.  It’s certainly no Battle of Hogwarts, and doesn’t hold a candle to any battle featured in the Lord of the Rings saga.  And that’s part of the problem with trying to make a fantasy film in this day and age.  Over the past fifteen years, the bar has been set so high in this genre by Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter that you’ve got to jump pretty darn high to reach the standard.  And Jack the Giant Slayer falls short.  Maybe in another genre, it would have been enough.  But as an epic fantasy film, it’s just one more forgettable entry to gather dust on the back shelf.

I’m hoping that this isn’t an indication of what the quality of Days of Future Past will be next year.  Bryan Singer hasn’t exactly been on a roll since he left the X-Men franchise, and I hope that maybe he just needs to get back on familiar ground in order to make something great again.  Jack the Giant Slayer is obviously not his wheelhouse, any more than Superman was.  I just hope that this isn’t an indication that all his best years are behind him, because I really want another great X-Men movie.