When this was first announced, it was called JACK THE GIANT KILLER. I got excited, cause I thought it was going to be a remake of the 1962 film of the same name, but no it’s not. It then changed its name to JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, and it’s definitely more like a retelling of JACK & THE BEANSTALK (which frankly, I think it should have been called). Bryan Singer has been “hit & miss” with me. I think THE USUAL SUSPECTS remains a masterpiece, but I didn’t care for APT PUPIL, either of his X-MEN films, or VALKYRIE. I did like the often blasted SUPERMAN RETURNS, however. I think the trailers for this one looked pretty bad, and the decision to delay the film to work further on post-production left a bad taste in my mouth. But as always, I walked into the theater with an open mind, as I brought my fantasy loving 9-year-old along for the ride.
Taking place in that old Renaissance Festival-like time period, Nicholas Hoult plays Jack, a teenage farm boy who is supposed to sell an animal at the market, but ends up getting some magic beans. The beans are actually a gateway to another world above. A world where giants live, as we learn in the film’s imaginative prologue. Also, while Jack was in town he meets the kingdom’s princess when he tries to save her from some thugs. Of course he’s smitten with her, but she’s royalty and he’s just a peasant. Oh well… Anyway, that night, the princess runs away (cause that’s what princesses always do) during a bad storm and ends up at Jack’s place. One of the beans ends up falling through the cracks of his house and a beanstalk grows. The princess is carried off into the sky, while Jack falls off.
The king (Ian McShane) and his men show up, and plan on climbing the beanstalk to rescue the princess. The king’s head honcho (Ewan McGregor) leads the rescue along with an advisor who plans on marrying the princess and taking over the kingdom (Stanley Tucci), and Jack ends up tagging along. Once they reach the top, they realize that the legend of the giants is true, as they discover a giant kingdom. Not only do they have to rescue the princess, but they must deal with Tucci (who has a crown that can control the giants), not to mention cut down the beanstalk so no giants will invade the kingdom.
The movie starts off pretty strong with a terrific prologue explaining the legend of the giants. It does a great job editing between Jack and the Princess as kids being told this story by their parents. This was an effective way to create a storybook-like feel for the movie. The tone of the film is mostly light throughout. occasionally, there’s some mildly scary moments of the giants eating people, but the camera always cuts away so you never really see anything graphically violent. I would have liked to see the movie go a little darker, but I don’t think that’s what Singer was going for. This was meant to be a fun adventure for almost all ages. I would say 8 and up will eat this up (my kid sure did).
The movie moves at a pretty fast pace. It doesn’t waste a whole lot of time as the beanstalk rises around the 15 minute mark. I would say the best thing this movie has going for it is its sense of fun and adventure. Lots of CGI effects that look like…. well…. CGI effects, but it fits the fantastical element of the story. There are some fun set pieces. The Beanstalk rising is surprisingly thrilling, the “pigs in a blanket” sequence was inventive, the confrontation between McGregor and Tucci is one of the film’s highlights, and the final battle with the giants invading the kingdom is full of entertaining spectacle.
Nicholas Hoult….. I’m not sure how much I like him as an actor yet. I loved him in ABOUT A BOY, but he was a kid then. His looks kind of bother me, but I suppose his performance is fine here, as he has that clueless sort of naive-thing going for him. It took me about 45 minutes to decide if I liked Ewan McGregor or not, but after I realized that his character was supposed to be like a Dudley Do-Right character, I got into him. Always showing off his teeth by grinning constantly, McGregor delivers a subtlety comical and fun performance as the hero who may not be as talented as he thinks he is. Also, love the Star Wars reference they threw in there. See if you can spot it. Ian McShane is awesome as usual. I also was amused that Ewan Bremner was in the movie as Tucci’s smirking sidekick. I wonder if it was a conscious decision by Singer to reunite TRAINSPOTTING cast members McGregor and Bremner in this. I thought it was cool. Eleanor Tomlinson is generically pretty, but generally likable as the princess. She does a fine job. Eddie Mardsen does a decent job, but doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time as one of the king’s guards. My only complaint in the casting would be Stanley Tucci. He doesn’t do a terrible job as the villain, but he just seems like he’s not sure how to play his part. Should he play it straight, or comical? It’s a bit uneven. But besides that, the cast does a solid job.
While this is more workman-like than anything Singer has done before, it’s still an entertaining flick. The direction is better than average here. He seems to know that this is a simple adventure and does nothing to draw attention to the filmmaking. Instead, he serves the story simply by not employing many movie tricks that would draw attention to itself. And this approach works for the movie. The script is old-fashioned storytelling. It’s not as complex as something like LORD OF THE RINGS, nor is it trying to be. This is a fun adventure film that should bring out the 12-year old in all of us. One of the best things about the movie is John Ottman’s score. It’s full of iconic-sounding adventure themes that definitely pumped up THIS film geek. It’s his best work in quite some time, and one of the best adventure scores in a couple of years as it totally captures that old-fashioned tone.
The special effects of the giants are obvious CGI, but it works for the movie. They all have their own personalities. It was fun to see them interact with each other and the humans. The battle at the end is a going to make a lot of fantasy fans happy. For some reason, I think this movie is going to play well for those who thought the LORD OF THE RINGS movies were too long. This is under 2 hours, and goes by really fast. It’s got all of the adventure of those films, and none of the bloat. Fantasy fans shouldn’t miss this one. It’s not perfect, nor is it among my favorite fantasy films, but it’s good enough to pass the time. It’s not one that’ll be remembered throughout the years, but I enjoyed myself while I was watching it. Good escapism. ★★★ (out of ★★★★).
– Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language
– Running time: 1hr 54min.