Second Breakfast Slays Some Giants

SecondBreakfast-01

Finals week! The bane of every college student and probably also professor. Stress levels are high, caffeine intake is high, nutrition is secondary, sleep is irrelevant, alcohol should probably just not be touched. Finals week sucks most verily. As I wrapped up my exams and was still unmotivated to finish my papers, I once again turned to the wonderful world of cinema to cheer me up. What kind of movie was I in the mood for? Definitely not something like The Hunt or Oldboy. No, I was in the mood for a dumb fantasy adventure. I was in the mood for…

The Last Unicorn (1982)

AAAAAHHHHHH!

Rankin/Bass Productions
AAAAAHHHHHH!

Ha, no I’m just kidding.

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

I want to get paid to think of tag lines... or to write this blog.

Warner Bros.
I want to get paid to think of tag lines… or to write this blog.

The Plot: Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a hapless farm boy yearning for adventure. Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is a hapless princess yearning for adventure. Naturally, their paths cross and they realize that they have something in common… BOOM! An enormous beanstalk appears! Isabelle gets caught in it carried up and up and up. The next morning, Jack teams up with Ewan McGregor, Evil Stanley Tucci, and a cast of expendables to climb the beanstalk and rescue the princess. They might get a little more than they bargained for, though… because, you know, giants.

Men saving women? Good thing this isn't a Tuesday Zone article, am I right?

Warner Bros.
Men saving women? Good thing this isn’t a Tuesday Zone article, am I right?

So, that plot sounds dumb, and the trailers kind of supported that theory, and while the plot is, indeed, dumb, the movie as a whole is anything but. Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men: First Class) acknowledged that his movie was in danger of being stupid, and narrowly managed to steer clear of bad with one simple decision: smart characters. Despite the CGI, the big budget, the action sequences, the fantastical elements, and Ian McShane’s costume, Jack the Giant Slayer is a character driven adventure, not a plot driven one. What’s more, the characters are well written. The dialogue is sharp, motivations are clear and logical, and no one is annoying. Yeah. Think about that. This is a fantasy adventure story starring a Nicholas Hoult archetype and a headstrong princess who just wants to be true to herself, and the characters aren’t irritating. Hot damn.

Ewan McGregor is trying so hard to ignore Ian McShane's outfit.

Warner Bros.
Ewan McGregor is trying so hard to ignore Ian McShane’s outfit.

The reason the characters work is because the writers all started with traditional fantasy archetypes and then innovated them! But they didn’t stop there. Then, they filled out these characters with a talented cast. Beautiful.

Hey, speaking of beautiful, I think it's time for a paragraph about Ewan McGregor.

ShineOn Media
Hey, speaking of beautiful, I think it’s time for a paragraph about Ewan McGregor.

I decided he is the key to this film’s success. McGregor plays Elmont, the captain of King Ian McShane’s elite force. He’s the best in the kingdom, and in command of the next tier of bests. If this were a lesser movie, or a Disney movie, Elmont would be really good at killing things, but he’d be a total jerk. He would condescend the ever-loving snot out of poor Jack, try to romance the princess, and embarrass himself terribly in the process, while still believing that he’s the best thing in the world. Here’s an excerpt from a typical fantasy screenplay:

INT. GIANT’S KITCHEN – DAY

ELMONT and ISABELLE are in trouble. Elmont is in the oven. The GIANT CHEF is going to kill Isabelle. JACK shows up, kills giant, frees Elmont and Isabelle.

ELMONT: Whatever, Jack, you’re still just a peasant. I could’ve saved us if I wanted to. I’m in charge. Shut up. You’re ugly. I’m pretty. Shut up.

Here’s how it goes down in Jack the Giant Slayer:

INT. GIANT’S KITCHEN – DAY

ELMONT and ISABELLE are in trouble. Elmont is in the oven. The GIANT CHEF is going to kill Isabelle. JACK shows up, kills giant, frees Elmont and Isabelle.

ELMONT: Nice work, Jack! We’d be toast without you—literally.

See the difference? Elmont is a nice guy, a good leader, he’s smart, but he’s willing to admit when he’s made a mistake or when he needs help, he always gives credit where credit’s due, he always knows the right thing to do, and he always does it. Furthermore, there is never even the slightest hint of a belabored love triangle. Hallelujah. That’s about as refreshing as cup of tea to a British colonial explorer home from a weeklong tiger hunt in the Indian jungle. Damn satisfying. Ewan McGregor plays this character with just the right amount of charm and dignity and hair.

You guys, the hair.

Warner Bros.
You guys, the hair.

I do also have to mention Stanley Tucci. I reviewed The Devil Wears Prada a while ago, and devoted a full paragraph to praising Stanley Tucci. If you’re interested in my thoughts on Stanley Tucci, just read that paragraph, because I don’t have a whole lot to add. Oh, except for the fact that I have since MET him and acquired his AUTOGRAPH.

STOP! Stop being so fabulous and evil. I can't even handle it.

Warner Bros.
STOP! Stop being so fabulous and evil. I can’t even handle it.

Now, all this is not to imply that Jack the Giant Slayer is without fault. It’s got a few problems. Chief among them, for me at least, is the cast of expendables. I mean, not the cast itself, they’re fine; they’re just not used well. Expendables are important to this kind of movie. You expect a body count. It’s an adventure story! We identify Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, and Stanley Tucci, and we assume that everyone else on the expedition is going to die, preferably one by one. Boy, though, did they not do it right in Jack the Giant Slayer. We have something like eight expendables, and exactly none of them die at the appropriate time. You want to use those deaths to further the plot, develop the important characters, add gravity to a situation, or because no one’s died in a few minutes. It sounds trivial, but it’s actually kind of important for this kind of movie. It could have been done better, but overall it didn’t detract too much.

While Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t the best or most creative movie in… really any category, it is a really fun movie, and precisely what I needed during finals week. The action sequences aren’t too over-the-top, which is pretty rare for this kind of movie, and the CGI is used appropriately. Singer was never like, “Guys these giants are SO COOL! We have to use them in every scene.” Really, this film should be taken as an important lesson for other action movies. Let’s think back to last year’s stupidest action movies. Taken 2, Wrath of the Titans, Snow White and the Huntsman. Stupid plots, no characters, bad dialogue. Now what about Jack Reacher, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-man? Stupid plots, good characters, good dialogue. Jack the Giant Slayer? Stupid plot, good characters, good dialogue. And that’s what sets apart a good movie from a bad movie.

Although that's not all that makes a movie good.

Although that’s not all that makes a movie good.

One thought on “Second Breakfast Slays Some Giants

  1. Pingback: Second Breakfast: A Clever Pun on the Word ‘Trance’ | Rooster Illusion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s