Fe fi fo fum! With Jack the Giant Slayer, the fairy tale legend of Jack and the Beanstalk gets an action update courtesy of director Bryan Singer. And while it sometimes tries too hard to be all things to all people, it’s still an entertaining film.
In the peaceful kingdom of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), legend tells of a race of giants living above the clouds, who came down to earth on an enormous beanstalk grown by monks in search of a ladder to Heaven. The story tells how Brahmwell’s ancestor crafted a magical crown that gave him power over the marauding giants and sent them back where they came from.
But it’s not just a story, as young Jack (Nicholas Hoult) discovers when he comes into possession of some magic beans, and accidentally gets one wet. During an ill-timed visit from the rebellious Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the bean sprouts, carrying Jack’s house and Isabelle skyward. Along with a team of the king’s guards led by Captain Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Jack must climb the beanstalk and rescue Isabelle from the giants, who still want revenge on mankind. Things are made even more complicated by Isabelle’s fiancé, the sly Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who has unearthed the magical crown as part of a nefarious quest for power.
While Jack the Giant Slayer has clearly been influenced by the Lord of the Rings films – with elaborate castles and intense battles against hordes of monsters – it also has its own distinct tone. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but there’s an occasional lightness to it that underscores its fairy tale origins. There are also some clever touches, like the epilogue that dovetails the story nicely with our modern version of the beanstalk tale.
All that would be great if there weren’t also a sizable amount of violence, and in fact, the shift back and forth between lighter moments and grim action is sometimes jarring. Humans are a popular snack among the giants, and though the movie cuts away from the graphic details, there is enough imagery and suggestion to disturb younger viewers. The ultimate fate of the giant leader, General Fallon (Bill Nighy) is also something you might want to shield their eyes from.
They may be in lesser roles, but the presence of McGregor, Tucci, McShane, and Nighy’s voice gives the two young romantic leads an excellent foundation. Hoult is an earnest and likeable Jack, Tomlinson equally so, though she’s forced to do her best with a script that makes much of her adventurous nature, then sticks her in the role of damsel-in-distress.
These sorts of inconsistency, spread throughout the film, keep Jack the Giant Slayer from rising to the level of a truly great actioner. But as it is, it’s a sufficiently engaging popcorn movie for these late winter doldrums.
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