The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

Let's give credit where it's due. Disney has done its best to make fairy tales at least moderately politically correct, but there's something that is often odd, unsettling and pretty uncomfortable about them. Weird to dulled down to....well, movies have gotten their greedy paws on the genre again, making them action movies? From Snow White to Jack and the Beanstalk, they're all ripe for the picking, like 2013's Jack the Giant Slayer.

Living in the kingdom of Cloister, a young farm boy, Jack (Nicholas Hoult), has grown up idolizing the legend of an ancient king, Erik, who saved the kingdom from the wrath of man-eating giants. Unfortunately, living with his uncle on his small farm in the countryside, Jack doesn't seem destined for any sort of heroic deeds or royal crown. Selling his uncle's horse though in town through an odd set of circumstances, Jack comes into possession of a bag of small beans....powerful beans (oh no!). That night, Jack is stunned to find the king's daughter, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), on his doorstep, but in a driving rain, he loses the beans and they immediately sprout up, blasting away to the skies....with Isabelle in tow. The next morning with help from the king, his men, the Guardians, and the treacherous Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) along, Jack climbs up the immense beanstalk to the land between Heaven and Earth where the giants reside. Can they rescue Isabelle in time?

A solid performer at the box office upon its release this spring, 'Jack' earned almost $200,000,000 in theaters. It's easy to see why. It takes a familiar story -- Jack and the beanstalk -- and has some fun with it, injecting a whole lot of energy via lots o' action and cool characters. Getting it to theaters proved to be not to easy, but director Bryan Singer does a very capable job in the end. It's tightly paced, running an action-packed 114 minutes, and never gets too bogged down in any one scene or character. If there's flaws....and there's hard to have too much of an issue with them because we're onto the next scene with the snap of a finger! Composer John Ottman's score is a good one too, a big, booming fantastical score that fits in well with the non-stop action.

Box office success considered, it's all that more impressive because there isn't one huge headlining star here. There's no one that screams out "GOTTA see this!!!" Good actors just the same, but no sure thing. Start with Hoult, the young English actor who holds his own as the titular Jack. He's a teenager growing up, not some muscle-bound hero. Most importantly, Hoult's meek nerdiness plays well, and he's very likable. One of my favorite actors currently working, Ewan McGregor is clearly having some fun as Elmont, the captain of the king's guard, a tried and true and very capable warrior. The always fun, always reliable Ian McShane isn't given a ton to do as King Brahmwell, the aging ruler who worries for his daughter's well-being but must measure it against the well-being of the Kingdom and his people, but it's Ian McShane, just go with it. The same applies for Tucci, a great actor who makes the most of his part as the greedy, power-hungry Lord.

Playing the damsel in distress who...........gasp.......likes Jack (how could this be?!?), Tomlinson is decent as Isabelle, but she simply isn't given enough to do. Shallow guy mode, but she's a cute princess so that's good. Eddie Marsan plays Crawe, Elmont's fellow guard and a longtime friend, while Ewen Bremner is a solid backup villain as Wicke, Roderick's equally treacherous accomplice.

Enough with the positives, bring on the negatives! As fun as some of the characters are, you don't always feel especially connected to them. It's a fun, diverting script but the focus seems to be entirely on big, broad strokes of characters and the spectacle of what we're watching. Character development? Eh, overrated. My biggest concern (on top of those things) was what I'd seen in trailers, what appeared to be an overindulgence of computer-generated special effects. Yeah, I was spot-on there. While it was filmed in the English countryside, it never feels/looks like it. Just about every scene feels like a very polished, very at a distant CGI shot. It gets repetitive, and the giants look tolerable I suppose, but it's not the highest of quality CGI. Bill Nighy lends his voice talents to play General Fallon, the leader of the vengeful giants. For me at least, CGI is best used in small doses that fits in effortlessly with a story. Not the case here where basically the complete visual look of the movie depends on the CGI.

That said, I thought the movie was a lot of fun. The backstory of how the giants ended up in their purgatory above the clouds is pretty cool, and the adventures to said purgatory provide for some cool backdrops to the story. It's always fun, always exciting, and the finale with the giants descending on Cloister and Brahmwell's castle is quite the wrap-up. Sure, there are times I wish it connected a little more, giving us more investment in the characters or the story. 'Jack' can be a little heartless, feeling like we're watching from a distance at times, but I'm not going to get too analytical here. It's fun. Enjoy it, and DONE.

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013): ***/****

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