½*/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras D
starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor
screenplay by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney
directed by Bryan Singer
by Walter Chaw There's an interesting moment early on in Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer, but don't get used to it. It's a cross-cut sequence wherein peasant Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and princess Isabelle (absolutely adorable Eleanor Tomlinson) reveal they're both products of neglect and the devastation of a parent lost too young. This unites them in strife and turmoil (in the way that wasn't properly addressed by the Mako/Raleigh team-up in Pacific Rim) to (likewise) battle monsters of the theoretical Id (Oedipus is the first guess, Electra the second), here literal giants in a cloud-shrouded kingdom, accessed by a priapic growth sprouting in the dead of night. It's the only time the film identifiably belongs to Bryan Singer, a maker of large films nonetheless invested in personal, intimate deconstructions. People in my world are neatly divided between the ones who didn't like Singer's Superman Returns and the ones who are right. I want to believe that movie is the reason why Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McShane said "yes" to Jack the Giant Slayer, and not because Tucci, McGregor, and McShane are already just filthy impulses cashing paychecks à la 1980s Michael Caine.
Jack the Giant Slayer has about it the reek of desperation. Unprotected by anything like a decent script, it's also un-bolstered by anything like an inspired concept. It seems our Jack gets magic beans, grows them, climbs a sky-high beanstalk to save the beautiful princess, and encounters a land of giants led by a two-headed freak giant. From a director who embraces difference, that bit of sideshow is the cruellest blow. To flesh out the running time (and the picture never feels like it's doing anything but), add Tucci as a scheming nobleman who, failing to violate our fair Isabelle, settles for donning an ancient crown (Hellboy II) that makes him the king of the giants. He wants to be that, see, so he can overthrow good ki...you know what? I can't talk about this movie anymore. Sufficed to say, it all culminates in a castle siege, lots of really questionable CGI, and with Jack and Isabelle getting hitched in a conclusion so desultory and lazy-feeling that the lingering sensation is a kind of resentment that whatever investment you placed into not walking out of the damned thing was not returned by anyone involved with the movie proper.
It's awful, yes, and weirdly impersonal--to the degree that it raises the question of motivation: What is it that Singer is atoning for, still? Superman Returns? Valkyrie? Was this the price he had to pay to earn back entry into the X-Men franchise? It's bad enough, in other words, to inspire conspiracy theories as to how someone like Singer, whose unmade concept for a Superman Returns sequel remains for me the thing I would fund were I to win the Powerball, could have fallen so impossibly low. It's bad enough, unfortunately, to prompt a reassessment of his previous work; bad enough that I was desperate to discover in there, buried like a bit of treasure under a mountain of bullshit, a hint that Singer was winking, was bitter, was anything. Alas, I don't think Jack the Giant Slayer is this director's North by Northwest: the "fun" one masking the middle finger, doomed to be misunderstood and greasy enough to lubricate the rest of a career spent doing the sort of personal films that brought him to this point. When you make a movie this awful, with no hint of useful self-awareness, you're not proving a point--you're giving up.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Lucky for Warner Bros., idiots like Shaun Oldfield are a thing and such things provide blurbs for Blu-ray/DVD combo-pack slipcovers, such as, "Giant fun for the whole family!" When cultural anthropologists spare a couple of minutes a few decades from now for what happened to the craft of film criticism, a paragraph or two should be devoted to guys like Oldfield, who reduced conversations with art to bad puns in the questionable pursuit of seeing their name attached to garbage like this. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is a brilliant rendering of a slick digital Renaissance fair--but, robbed of nuance, Singer turns out to be a rather pedestrian framer, something complicated by the intention all along of retrofitting this debacle into the almost-never-a-good-idea 3-D format. Reviewing the 2-D presentation sees it as very much a big-budget movie from the twenty-teens, and not anything more than that. Blacks are crisp black, whites are crisp white, and that fake beanstalk is profoundly green. Also fake.
The audio mix is obnoxiously well-represented by the accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, with sound effects avalanching in from all directions. The castle siege, in particular, crackles with destruction and tree-born mayhem; if you want a showpiece, cue up the bit where the bean takes root in someone's stomach and...oh, nevermind. Jesus. Deleted Scenes (8 mins., HD) and a short gag reel (3 mins., HD) are essentially bits of adorable young British people flirting and revealing that they developed nicknames for each other based on their costumes. I would have thought of something else to call Tomlinson in her gold miniskirt of chain mail besides "C-3PO," but that's why I'm no longer welcome in the state of Missouri. Aimed at children and greenscreen fetishists, "Become a Giant Slayer" (40 mins., HD) is a collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes accessible through an irritating remote-control "game" that reminds me a lot of the crap that SEGA tried to foist on their SEGA CD system before it disappeared in a puff of Dana Plato. Poor Hoult is roped into introducing the gimmick and looks rightly embarrassed--though not as embarrassed as Singer, who barely shows his face throughout the entire ordeal. Blu-ray 3D version sold separately.