There’s an unsavory expectation regarding a movie that opens at the beginning of March featuring an untested, up-and-coming screen presence alongside storied-but-unreliable supporting players and besotted by CGI creations and large scale spectacle. There’s an expectation because lately certain films have tried to use empty, plodding set pieces as a panacea for greater sins of poor story, uninteresting characters, and lack of any surprising or engrossing story turns. It deadens the audience before they can even get through the door, and odds are that most of the populace is viewing you, Jack the Giant Slayer, as just another lumbering brute to be ignored until the more polished action films hit in the summer.
It’s my small and unexpected pleasure to say that this would be a mistake on their part. Rather than being the ugly, artless, monotonous two hour tumble into nonsense and bordom that I expected, you ended up being something of a treat. An airy, insubstantial treat, but a fun time at the movies nonetheless.
How did this happen? I think it is because you know better than to rest on your laurels and allow your story to move forward on rails. There is no point at which your narrative became easily predictable. Characters whose trajectory would be easily charted in lesser films are instead imbued with a sense of unpredictability, and your story progresses at the whim of the reality of the characters and their situations. People who would be kept alive arbitrarily just to cause more havoc later are dispatched with the suddenness and randomness befitting a situation plagued with brutish, violent giants.
Therein is another of your strengths. Seeing as you are based on a children’s tale, it would be easy to believe that the weight of your story would be no greater than the menace bestowed by the line “fee-fi-fo-fum.” Sure, many of the same elements remain intact. There is Jack, the poor farm boy who goes to sell some livestock and ends up with important beans. There is the beanstalk which rises up to the kingdom of giants. There is a gold harp, a golden egg. But there are new aspects as well, such as the crown made of a giant’s heart which can give the wearer power over the giants, the loyal king’s guard, and of course the spirited princess.
I can feel the eyes of my readers rolling already, so let me interject and address them directly. Jack the Giant Slayer does a substantial amount of work establishing the two protagonists, and makes sure to build them up beyond the simple characteristics that their roles would usually allow them. They are not a roguish dashing man and the swooning, imperiled lady. The film creates for them a series of parallel experiences and opposing personality traits that make them two separate individuals, not destined to be together, but compatible in some earnest and precise ways.
But the most surprising and visceral aspect of your production that I was surprised and delighted to see was the actual threat posed by the army of hulking antagonists. There is a tendency to dilute the menace of an enemy in films lately, especially films shooting for a wide appeal. However, you do not shy from showing the brutality and ravenous monstrosity of your antagonists. They are wild, uncontrollable, disloyal and treacherous even to their own kind. They are an animal force with no sense of mercy or fair play, and as such they act as a real and present danger to everyone around them. The stakes in your tale are real, urgent, and as such they carry a weight and earnestness that makes one invest in the outcome of the story.
And that is the key to understanding your success. Everyone involved brings an earnestness and a sincerity to the proceedings, meaning that the seams and artifice of your narrative are well-concealed, and allow for the viewer to connect to the reality of the story. While you won’t change any lives, and you may not endure as a classic example of fantasy cinema, you no doubt have your place in the world, and it’s a far sight better than what most people probably would have assumed.
With growing fondness,
Brian J. Roan