Fairy tales are ripe for the picking in Hollywood. They come with instant brand recognition around the world and, most importantly, they are in public domain. Studios don’t have to dish out thousands of dollars for the rights. Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest to follow in that trend.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a farm boy tilling the land in the kingdom of Cloister. As a young lad, he was fascinated with the story of King Erik. Long ago, a group of monks toyed with magic and created beans that would grow into stalks that reached to the heavens. They unknowingly brought down a race of bloodthirsty giants who proceeded to ransack the world of man. The remaining monks carved a magical crown out of the iron heart of a giant to grant Erik the power to control them and send them back to the land. The crown and the last of the beans were buried with King Erik and became legend.
Through happenstance, Jack trades the family horse for a pouch of those magic beans, much to the chagrin of his uncle who tosses them away. Meanwhile, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) flees from the castle to escape her arranged marriage to the odious Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who has secretly stolen King Erik’s crown. On a stormy night, Isabelle seeks shelter in Jack’s home just as the bean sprouts and sends her into the land of the giants. Led by the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy), the giants have been searching for a way to return and seek revenge for their past defeat. Jack and members of the king’s elite guard climb the beanstalk to rescue the Princess while Roderick plots to enslave the giants and rule all the kingdoms.
Jack the Giant Slayer might be considered this year’s John Carter as an overly expensive blockbuster that played to empty theaters. The production budget was almost $200 million and the release date was pushed back from summer of 2012 to the doldrums of February. However,Jack and John Carter do not deserve to be categorized alongside notorious flops such asHeaven’s Gate or Ishtar. Make no mistake, Jack the Giant Slayer is far from a great movie, but it’s more enjoyable than Bryan Singer’s last two films, Superman Returns and Valkyrie. The script sticks rigidly to a predictable formula and most of the humor falls flat. The CGI is a mixed bag. There’s no sense of wonder or fear when the characters first encounter the grotesque giants who burp, fart, and pick their noses.
Still, Jack the Giant Slayer is refreshingly straightforward without being wildly revisionist in the manner of Snow White and the Huntsman or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. It’s fast paced without the bloated running time of other epics, something Peter Jackson seems to have forgotten. Jack maintains a lighthearted tone throughout even while the body count rises and rises. It’s a bloodless film, but little kids might be spooked at the prospect of a giant biting a man in half, despite the grisly act being committed offscreen.
Nicholas Hoult is getting to the point where he can do no wrong. Fresh off Warm Bodies, Hoult gives another terrific performance for a rather bland character. Eleanor Tomlinson does her best, but her princess gets stuck as the damsel in distress too often. Despite being written as headstrong (she sneaks out of the castle ala Princess Jasmine), she spends most of the movie screaming and waiting to be rescued. Just as Ewan McGregor did his best Alec Guinness impression for the Star Wars prequels, he does his best Errol Flynn here as Elmont, the captain of the king’s guard. His Transpotting co-star Ewan Bremner is in full on Spud mode as Roderick’s simple-minded toady. Stanley Tucci is a hoot as the villain. With his stringy hair and gapped teeth, he resembles an ancestor of Tim Burton. It’s also nice to see Ian McShane cast as someone other than the baddie. He plays Isabelle’s father, King Brahmwell. Genre fans should take note as Warwick Davis appears in a cameo and Fallon’s other head is voiced by John Kassir, who also did the voice of the Crypt Keeper on HBO’s Tales from the Crypt.
Singer directs the action sequences with aplomb, particularly the unique way in which the beanstalks grow. The climax is a chaotic castle siege that remains exciting and visibly coherent without all the choppy editing and shaky cam. There’s also a cleverly staged sequence in which Jack rescues Elmont from being baked alive by a giant chef.
Sporting a bloated budget and a scant opening weekend, Jack the Giant Slayer will undoubtedly stand as one of the 2013’s biggest bombs. Jack is no Princess Bride, but it’s hardly one of the year’s worst movies. Just one of its most mediocre.
Film Value: 5 out of 10