The story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” has been around for ages; in many ways it’s one of the tallest tall tales we have. This weekend, the stalk is once again being scaled and the man facing down giants this time around is director Bryan Singer.
Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t so much a re-imagining, as it is an expounding upon the story we all grew up with. Bryan Singer is no stranger to building upon pre-established characters, helping them travel from print to screen. He helmed two X-Men films as well as leaving his mark upon the Superman franchise with 2006’s Superman Returns. Jack the Giant Slayeris an interesting amalgam of the characteristics that have defined his style as a filmmaker. But does it also hint at his creative future?
Bryan Singer’s name isn’t always mentioned in conversations about the premier contemporary action directors. This may have something to do with the fact that he began his career crafting cerebral thrillers. Usual Suspectsfor example was a twisty, performance-driven heist movie, but even it had its action set pieces. One of the pivotal scenes involves the siege of a ship. The inciting incident comes when one member of the central crew saunters up to a group of shipmen, mingles for a bit, and then fires the first of many shots that will ring out before the scene ends. As the sequence plays out, the audience notices that slow, elegant movements offset the loud, jarring gun blasts; Gabriel Byrne moving in slow-mo down the pier.
It may seem like a casual flourish, something to break up the monotony of the expositional lead-in to a shootout, but it actually represents one of the most striking of Singer’s visual signatures. His action sequences often employ an astonishing amount of fluidity. From The Usual Suspects, we move to X-Men. Wolverine grips a prong of the Statue of Liberty’s crown with his claws as he falls, and swings around in slow, unbroken circle back to his feet. This grace in action choreography can be see again in X2 as Nightcrawler swoops and careens in and out of solid state through the halls of the White House. Superman Returnsis perhaps the most pronounced example this penchant. The specificity of Superman’s flight, and the flowing movement of his cape, makes it seem as if he were underwater.
This affinity abides in Jack the Giant Slayer rather wonderfully. In the film, our vegetation-ascending hero instigates the resurgence of an ancient conflict between humans and giants. In one of the film’s massive action scenes, giants advance on a human stronghold. The elegance and precision of movement displayed in the giants catapulting flaming rocks is as dazzling as it is appropriate for Singer. The fluidity of his action could be compared to dance; the meticulousness of the movement as well as a keen awareness of the geography of the scene. To wit, watch the spin through the kitchen as Jack stabs a giant in the back of the head.
Another interesting trademark of Bryan Singer’s films, action or otherwise, is his fascination with team dynamics. Singer has demonstrated a knack for constructing stories that require multiple heroes, each with their own specialized skill sets, to defeat a supreme foe. This began with The Usual Suspects, served him well in both of his X-Men films, and was an essential element of his WWII drama Valkyrie. This is a strangely contradictory trope given that the theme of alienation tends to define at least one character in each of his films. And yet even in Superman Returns, featuring arguably the most alienated superhero ever written (an orphaned extraterrestrial hero without a home world), it is the actions of Lois Lane and her family that prove instrumental in saving both The Man of Steel and the world. In his latest film, Singer again indulges this inclination; transforming Jack and the Beanstalk into Jack, the Beanstalk, and an Army at His Back.
Upon completion of Jack the Giant Slayer, Bryan Singer signed on to return to the X-Men franchise, taking over for the departing Mathew Vaughn on X-Men: Days of Future Past. Here again, he’ll be exploring his predilection for team dynamics as he tackles another story within the universe of one of the greatest hero ensembles in comics. There is however another element from Singer’s past that, in addition to being revisited in Jack the Giant Slayer, might play a crucial role in his immediate future.
One of the things for which X-Men fans have been clamoring since the first filmic adaptation is the appearance of the Sentinels. In the comics, these were the giant robots programmed by humans with but one function: find and/or kill mutants. They represented mankind’s well-documented intolerance and are also one of the most popular constructs of the source material. Up to now, we’ve been denied Sentinels every step of the way, and even teased with a severed Sentinel head in the Danger Room in Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3. It has already been rumored, and was rumored before Singer came aboard, that Days of Future Pastwould finally herald their on-screen appearance.
Could it be that Jack the Giant Slayer is Bryan Singer’s testing ground for his imminent Sentinel implementation? Singer is no stranger to large-scale action adventure pieces, but the scale of the Sentinels, and the perspective variance between these towering killer robots and the actors will require visual effects that, prior to Jack, would have been outside of his comfort zone. The new movie gives him plenty of opportunity to work with effects artists on exactly this task. The digital antagonists in the Jack the Giant Slayer are very impressive, and should instill in fans the hope for Bryan Singer’s potential introduction of Sentinels into the X-Men franchise.
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[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]