Jack the Giant Slayer: The fire sale on fairy-tale adaptations greenlit in the wake of Alice in Wonderland, and shelved in the wake of the realization that a billion dollars’ worth of people going to see a Tim Burton movie does not in fact indicate a bottomless appetite for big-budget fairy tales, continues: after Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters comes Bryan Singer’s Jack and the Beanstalk riff that was, like Hansel, originally scheduled for a 2012 bow. Jack the Giant Slayer now occupies a release-date no man’s land; Disney’s return to Oz took the early-March Alice slot next weekend, and Warner Brothers has inexplicably decided to live with beating Disney to theaters by exactly one week, presumably assuming that because their movie technically grabbed the first weekend of March, it will emerge victorious. Or maybe they’re just trying to spitefully wing Disney’s movie on their way down.
In any event, Bryan Singer’s first movie in four-and-a-half years (a career-biggest gap) and last movie before he returns to directing X-Men movies (Days of Future Past drops summer 2014!) feels, sight unseen, like something of a palate cleanser. Singer certainly knows from eschewing flash: his last movie, Valkyrie, is a straight-ahead and effective WWII thriller, sort of the unimaginative counterpoint to Tarantino’s feverish, brilliant Inglourious Basterds, and the best thing about his X-Men forays has been their sense of character and understated humor. This makes a big, broad-looking adventure movie look like a significant change-up—from Singer’s filmography, anyway, if not the general mode of these lavish all-ages fairy tale spectaculars. But Ewan McGregor was a charming swashbuckler in the Star Wars prequels, Nicholas Hoult was engaging as Beast in X-Men: First Class, and who knows? Maybe Singer’s movie will be fun. I wouldn’t blame families for going out to see; the only movie with any little-kid appeal released in 2013 has been the WeinsteinToonz (this is my made-up name for low-budget Weinstein Company-released computer animation) production Escape from Planet Earth. And hey, none of these fairy-tale movies have outright flopped: Hansel and Gretel is going to wind up with $55 million or so domestic and well over $150 million worldwide, striking distance of the non-smash Mirror Mirror but also pretty respectable for a movie with far less kid accessibility and far more rumors of disaster.