“Jack and the Beanstalk” has never struck me as the best fairy tale. The titular hero wasn’t very smart – the whole trading beans for a cow business – and his story had some seriously dubious morals: If you broke into somebody’s house enough times and tricked his wife into giving you food before stealing one of his prized possessions, you will eventually get to kill him and live happily ever after with all your stolen loot.
So yeah, a reboot of the classic tale was certainly not unwelcome. And for the most part, Jack the Giant Slayer is indeed a very welcome addition to the current Hollywood fairy tale fad. Just a pity about the giant missteps.
The task of bringing this new vision of the tale to the screen falls on the shoulders of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, who previously collaborated on the very un-fairy tale like The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie. As the man that arguably dragged the superhero movie genre into the realm of leather-suited mainstream relevancy with X-Men and X2, Singer is certainly no stranger to reinventing what many consider to be a kid’s story for a contemporary audience. But don’t worry, he hasn’t decided to Dark Knight it all up, just so that he can also be described with Hollywood’s current favourite adjective: gritty. No, Jack the Giant Slayer never forgets its feather light, fairy tale roots, but tweaks the well known plot just enough to give it its own legs.
For one, it’s now giants. Plural. A whole race of them actually, all biding their time above the clouds – passionately avoiding all forms of personal hygiene by the look of things – after being banished there by a legendary king with a magical crown, as punishment for their warring ways. For another, this Jack now has a Jill, or Princess Isabelle to be more precise. It’s his burgeoning affection for her (and the fact that she was kind of inside his house when the magical beans sprouted and carried it and the princess skyward) that now provides Jack with the reason for taking his trip up that legendary beanstalk.
As Jack and Isabelle, Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class, Warm Bodies) and Elleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist) respectively play the lowly farmboy turned hero and coddled princess searching for freedom and an adventure of her own, with just the right amounts of teenage awkwardness and charm, despite actually being the actors with the least amount of work to do. The fact is that despite their eager efforts, especially Hoult’s capable handling of both the comic and action scenes, the script simply doesn’t allow for them to break out much.
No, all the chewing of the lovingly detailed scenery is left in the hands, or finely manicured jaws as it were, of Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci. As the dapper Captain of the Guard, Elmont, who accompanies Jack up the beanstalk, McGregor is all Errol Flynn in boiled leather armour, swashing buckles with every step and swagger. While Tucci, as the treacherous Lord Roderick, Isabelle’s betrothed and adviser to her father, the King (played with regal dignity by Ian McShane), is the closest thing we’ll probably ever get to a real life Dick Dastardly. He even comes complete with a Muttley of his own in the form of Ewen Bremmer’s stab-happy, giggling henchman Wicke.
All the actors are clearly having a right jolly time with their characters and it shows, but for all their humanly eagerness, they simply get upstaged by the all-CG giants. Unfortunately for all the wrong reasons though.
You’d think that with a film that relies this heavily on CG creations, that that would be kind of a big deal to get right. Instead, some mediocre work results in giants that don’t even remotely resemble living beings, instead looking like they were carved out of caramel and dirt. Whether this was an intentional design decision or not, it was a poor one, as the effect of these cartoonish giants is pretty jarring.
Not helping the giants’ case either, is the fact that every once in a while Singer and co seem to try and reinforce the fact that they’re making a movie for truly the entire family, including snot-nosed little Timmy who still smells and raucously laughs at his own farts, by having the giants engage in completely gratuitous, gross out humour. Giant chef about to prepare a meal of Pig/Elmont-in-a-blanket? Of course he needs to pick in his nose and then slurp the entire ropey, gooey mess off his finger first. This happens ad nauseum, emphasis on the nausea. The script simply doesn’t give kids enough credit, thinking that fart jokes are the only way to get them laughing.
However, when the giants finally stop being walking displays of bodily excretions and actually go to war, you may be forgiven for forgetting all of that. Singer turns the final act of the film into essentially one 20-minute long, rousing, well choreographed action set piece, that has everything from dramatic chase sequences to the most devastating use of a tree seen in ages. It’s thrill a minute stuff, with Singer’s capable skills at directing wide-eyed spectacle helped along by frequent collaborator John Ottman’s invigorating score, that should keep young and old butt cheeks alike firmly glued to their seats.
And if you’ve been wondering why I’ve yet to mention the 3D of the film, that’s simply because there’s not that much to mention. While the effect is certainly not hamstringing the picture, as sometimes happens, outside of a couple nice depth of field effects, its really not a big deal. You certainly won’t be dodging around in your seat, if that’s what you’re after.
All in all, I honestly expected to hate Jack the Giant Slayer. In the end I still did, just not in the way you may think. You see, writing this review ended up being quite the arduous task as I hemmed and hawed my way through my feelings about the film. It was blessedly brisk and fun with a cast that were all in on the joke, and I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, but the completely unnecessary toilet humour sight gags and dodgy CGI definitely dragged it down a few notches. Also. if you like your cinema fare deep, mature and challenging, then you’re totally barking up the wrong beanstalk here, but if you‘re looking for a non-taxing slice of entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, then Jack the Giant Slayer may just be your golden goose.
Last Updated: March 20, 2013