I went to see Jack the Giant Slayer with bias: I was already a fan of the director Bryan Singer. I had seen his previous film, X-Men: First Class, last summer after watching a series of superhero films like The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman. But X-Men struck me as different from the others in that it was not the average good-hero-defeats-villain-in-climactic-scene story. The film asked ideological questions about what it means to have special powers in a normal world and if society could embrace a mutant superhero’s powers—or differences—to protect itself from the forces of evil.
Based on my past experience with Singer’s films, I expected Jack the Giant Slayer to take a new perspective on the classic fairy tale I knew from childhood. Maybe Singer was going to show repulsive giants in a new, positive light, or perhaps Jack would have qualms about stealing the giants’ treasure. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly expected more than what Singer offered.
The film turned out to be good old traditional chicken soup for the soul: sweet romance, an exciting adventure, thrilling moments when the villain almost succeeds, and finally a climax when forces of love and righteousness triumph.
It has its share of the clichéd characters usually found in fairy tales. There’s Isabelle, the beautiful, sheltered princess with a certain disregard for the rules. Eyeing the unmarried princess is the scheming fiancé/evil royal adviser who only wants to marry Isabelle to inherit the throne. There’s the peasant, Jack, with a heart of gold who would risk his life at a moment’s notice to protect Isabelle from harm. And, of course, there are the less-than-stupid, ugly, repulsive giants whose primary goal is to eat humans. Everything formulaic there.
Yet, while watching the film, I realized that one does not always need to try something radically different to make a good film. What really matters is that the film’s narrative is coherent and fast-paced, there is never a dull moment, and it always kept the audience engrossed.
It was satisfying to watch the underdog, Jack, use wit, humor, and charm to work his way through difficult situations and finally defeat the giant race. The rebellious princess disregarded just enough norms of femininity so that she was likable, though not radical. It was fun to see the characters from a fairytale that I read as a child come to life and interact with the beautifully constructed sets.
Bryan Singer made a great find in the lead actress Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays Princess Isabelle. She gave the character an adventurous persona that made the character pleasant and agreeable. Compared to the more popular Kristen Stewart, who played a similar role in Snow White and the Huntsman last summer, Tomlinson was leagues ahead in her performance. She will be an actress to watch out for in the coming years.
I expected great special effects from the film, and the film delivered. The renditions of Isabelle’s palace, the giants’ realm, and the giant beanstalk were lifelike and beautiful; the computer-generated giants were grossly repulsive, as they should be, and special effects made the scenes in which humans interact with the giants’ caves and dwellings thrilling. However, there were several times when I thought that the computer-generated graphics could have been better. Over the last year, films like Prometheus and Life of Pi have set high standards for special effects. Jack the Giant Slayer failed to live up to these standards.
Despite my criticisms, I still recommend catching Jack the Giant Slayer for a pleasant, gratifying watch that’s full of nostalgia. After all, fairy tales have passed the test of time and have been heard with much fanfare for several generations. They hold universal appeal, and if you have a good narrator—like Bryan Singer—they will never disappoint.