Jack the Giant Slayer takes the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk and plays some very cool variations on it. It’s big, loud and flashy – but with a huge dollop of heart. It has nothing more profound to say than ‘have fun at the movies!’ If you check it out, you will.
From the moment we see the young Jack and the equally young Isabel listening to the story of how King Eric defeated the giants, we know they are destined to meet – even though Jack is a humble farmer’s son and Isabel is a princess – and, sure enough, many years later, they do. Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) is watching a panto of King Eric’s story and Jack (Nicholas Hoult) steps up to defend her when a couple of yahoos try to hit on her.
Jack is in town to sell his uncle’s cart and horse but gets distracted by the panto, steps up on Isabel’s behalf and… someone steals the cart while he’s distracted. Then there’s the monk who’s being chased by the King’s constable’s men. He manages to persuade Jack to take some beans and keep them safe (a slightly better story selling a cow for them, I would say).
Why does the King’s Constable, Roderick (Stanley Tucci, running the ragged edge between comic menace and camp) want a handful of beans? They will provide access to the land of the giants, whom Eric defeated with a magical crown that forced the giants to obey his commands (and which Roderick has found). Another twist is that good King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has arranged for Isabel and Roderick.
Long story short, the adventurous Isabel finds herself caught in a storm and seeks shelter in a rundown farmhouse – belonging to Jack’s uncle. And wouldn’t you know it – one of the beans gets wet and BOOM! Beanstalk! Next thing you know, Jack is waking up in the clouds and Isabel is nowhere to be found, leaving Jack to climb back down the beanstalk and go for help – in the form of several of the king’s best men, led the matter of fact Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Crawe (Eddie Marsan) and Roderick(!).
The giants turn to be almost as ugly as they are large (which is saying something), but they’re not entirely dim. Led by the two-headed General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy as the bright and John Kassir as the dim one), the giants include Fee (Cornell John), Fye (Andrew Brooke), Foe (Angus Barnett) and Fum (Ben Daniels) – neatly referencing the original story. They also desperately want to invade the human world – apparently we’re good eatin’…
Under the direction of Bryan Singer, Jack the Giant Slayer is a big, bombastic popcorn movie that wants nothing more than to entertain. The script, by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney, the film moves well except for a few moments in the middle act and there are a number of good lines to be enjoyed.
Hoult and Tomlinson have excellent chemistry and are perfectly believable together. Tucci plays Roderick with considerably more bite and less camp than the trailers suggest, making him pretty disturbing in his nonchalance. McShane shines as a doting father and very benevolent king, making a stock decent guy much more interesting. Nighy is the only real standout amongst the giants – Fallon is smart enough to be a genuinely challenging antagonist, left to his own devices.
The CG giants are not quite at the level of Gollum, but there are hordes of them – each significantly different than his brothers (I didn’t see any women in the crowd), which is quite an accomplishment. On the other hand, the 3D is not particularly memorable. The film will be just as effective in 2D.
While there’s nothing particularly new about Jack the Giant Slayer, it is still infinitely preferable to Peter Jackson’s latest.
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