I took my daughter to see Gulliver’s Travels mainly because I checked the schedule too late to see Animals United, but mistakes of that kind can sometimes be fortuitous. Not this time.
Gulliver, as you can hardly be unaware due to the massive marketing campaign from TV adverts and bus hoardings, is played by Jack Black, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Jack Black plays Jack Black. People call him Gulliver for whatever reason. He plays the generic character from all his movies – a wisecracking loser with a whiff of unpredictability, except that nothing unpredictable ever happens. With a hefty injection of menace, he might angle vaguely towards Jack Nicholson, but ends up more like a Build-a Bear with dodgy battery – ‘cuddly’, ‘limited range’, and ‘annoying’ are phrases which spring to mind.
The Build-a-Bear identity is the only way to explain the attraction between himself and the beautiful, sophisticated Darcy (Emily Blunt) - at least, from her point of view. Darcy works, like Black, for a newspaper but she is a successful travel editor while Black works in the mailroom and has done for the past 10 years. A trainee on his first day at work is promoted above Black. You get the picture. Perhaps Darcy likes the idea of buying Black a new wardrobe and dressing him up each morning. You can buy beds, jewellery and shoes for these teddies, and they are very willing to spend time in the shops, unlike most men. Even Black’s plagiarism of a travel article isn’t enough to put her off. The message of the movie seems to be – ‘Plagiarise from Hollywood! Don’t worry! We’ll forgive you and you will win that gorgeous woman of your dreams you lied to. Women appreciate good liars as long as they can demolish an entire fleet of micro-people with one sneeze.’ Good, wholesome stuff.
Black wisecracks his way through various battles on behalf of Lilliput, despite betrayal from an embittered Lilliputian general. Nothing can hold him back for long. His escape from a giant doll’s house in Brobdingnag is all too easy. He has to wear a doll’s dress, which is of course Jack Black at his hilarious 'best'. As for Swiftian satire, you may as well forget it. There is no hint of a political agenda in this movie. It is a threadbare love story with a few special effects and a pompous baddie with a posh south of England accent, who is, in fact, the only one to see through Black’s lies that he was President back in the far-off land of USA. The baddie gets scant reward for this intelligence and for his genius in building a giant fighting robot that does at least give Black a run for his money.
Does Black ever get out of the mailroom? Well, that would be a spoiler if I told you, but you can probably guess. After fighting villains for much of the movie, he manages to deliver a message on the evils of war, for which we can all be profoundly grateful. ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ ‘Tell lies to get what you want.’ ‘Plagiarise and you will be well rewarded.’ What would Jonathan Swift make of it all?