After having its release postponed last year, Jack the Giant Slayer finally makes it to screens ... with a reported budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.
This thing will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history. Director Bryan Singer, who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked), has put together a visual mess whose budget doesn't show on the screen.
The movie features live actors performing alongside CGI giants, and the live action doesn't integrate with the effects at all. Sometimes, a director just doesn't find that comfortable balance between live action and CGI, and you just sense actors and actresses standing on a soundstage barking at something that will be added in later.
The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn't just make this a CGI animated adventure. It's not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.
The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (very good in this year's Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie mostly tolerable, but never takes it to great heights. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.
Unlike the classic fairy tale, Jack must go up against an army of giants this time out. Those giants are created via motion capture that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad. There just isn't a nice way to say it.
It doesn't help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed concoction named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the villainous Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is similar. So you spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn't help that Fallon's simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.
The movie is rated PG-13, but don't be taking the little kids. Singer has inserted many violent moments where the giants dispatch human victims, King Kong style. That means many people get snatched up and have their screaming heads bitten off. Granted, Singer doesn't show the bloody aftermath, and usually pulls away before the tearing is complete, but it's pretty shocking for what's supposed to be a family film.
People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the '76 version of King Kong, which I just watched again on Netflix the other day. The '76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.
As this film's love interest, the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn't exactly light up the screen. This isn't necessarily her fault, in that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.
McGregor fares best in the movie. I guess he's too old to play Jack, so we must make due with him as a soldier for Stanley Tucci's villain. McGregor has a couple of good moments, including a sequence where he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he's playing somebody funnier, but he isn't funny. Perhaps Singer left his best bits on the cutting room floor.
For the kids, Singer does allow for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out. "Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing."
I'm curious as to why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better (if so, they failed)? Or, did they know they had a stinker on their hands, and a March release would lessen the competition? Either way, they have a relative stinker on their hands.
Up next for Singer is a return to the X-Men universe with X-Men: Days of Future Past. That's encouraging news for sure, and it's good to know he will be back on familiar ground. Let's just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody's head off.