"Jack the Giant Slayer" is a reimagining of the children's fairy tale that we all know and love. The marketing and trailers are reminiscent of "The Lord of the Rings" movies, and the action sequences seem tailor-made for director Bryan Singer's "X-Men" movie fans, but although we'll be paying "big people" prices to see the film, it's undeniably intended for kids.
The movie is set in the fictional kingdom of Cloister. In alternating scenes, the same bedtime story about giants is being told to two children, plain old Jack and Princess Isabelle.
Jump forward a decade, and both characters are 18. Jack (Nicholas Hoult) must go to town to sell the family's only horse in an attempt to put some food on the table. While there, a grown-up Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) catches his eye. They share a "moment" before her bodyguard Elmont (Ewan McGregor channeling Cary Elwes from "The Princess Bride") comes to the rescue and Jack realizes that she's the princess. Before he heads home, Jack exchanges the horse for some magic beans, which the monk warns should never, ever, ever get wet. His uncle scolds him for coming home empty-handed. Jack is not having a very good day.
As luck would have it, Isabelle is mad at her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), for ignoring her wishes and forcing her to marry Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who, unbeknownst to the royal family, wants to take over the kingdom. Isabelle yearns for freedom and runs away, and she seeks shelter at Jack's cottage during the stormy night.
The magic beans shouldn't get wet. It's raining. Jack's day is about to get a lot worse.
The humongous beanstalk sprouts in seconds and shoots straight into the sky, taking Jack's house — and the princess — along with it. Although he's "not wildly keen on heights," Jack volunteers to climb up with the other soldiers to rescue Isabelle.
Once they reach the top of the beanstalk, it's evident that giants are real, and the children's fairy tale has a kernel of truth to it. The leader of the giants is two-headed General Fallon (a CGI version of Bill Nighy), and they're simply thrilled that yummy human snacks have come walking into their midst. Nighy was brilliantly eccentric in "Still Crazy" and "Love Actually," but as a CGI character, he's only able to showcase his grimaces.
Hoult and Tomlinson, two young and charming actors, do well in portraying two young and charming individuals. If you remember McShane from "Deadwood," it's difficult to think of him as a caring paternal figure, but he does a good job. Tucci, ever the chameleon, is completely believable as a smarmy, conniving creep. The story is based on a fairy tale, though, so although the actors do everything that the script demands of them, the characters still remain rather superficial.
I'm in the minority, but I actually enjoyed "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." It was fully cognizant of its silly premise, and it owned it. There was violence, there was intrigue, F-bombs were thrown, and boots were knocked. "Jack the Giant Slayer" is similarly enjoyable, but it's family friendly to the point of being saccharine sweet. Jack and Isabelle only share a chaste kiss, there is no blood, and creative film editing is employed. For instance, a giant raises a human soldier to his mouth, the camera cuts away, and in the next sequence, the giant spits out the soldier's suit of armor. Any violence is inferred and not shown. If you put parental controls on your kids' video game consoles, this is an ideal film for your family.
Visually, "Jack the Giant Slayer" looks good, though it's not as elegantly beautiful as the otherwise bland "Snow White and the Huntsman." I suspect that most of the movie's budget went to CGI and special effects. The beanstalk looks very impressive, as do the sweeping shots of the kingdom of Cloister. The giants look good, though how they came to be clothed like God of War's Kratos, nobody knows. This was natively filmed in 3-D, but with the exception of one scene near the end, it's not really noticeable. If you're going to check out this movie, save a few bucks and watch the 2-D version instead.
"Jack the Giant Slayer" offers some good, clean family fun. It looks good, there are some decent action scenes, and humorous moments are peppered throughout. If you want something for a more mature palate, this movie teases but doesn't deliver. Given the film's staggering $190 million budget, many eyes will be on the box office returns on Sunday morning to see how the movie fared. The film's success will largely depend on this weekend's family turnout.
"Jack the Giant Slayer" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and 3-D.
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