Jack the Giant Slayer

© 2013 Ray Wong

A retelling of the famous fairy tale, Jack the Giant Slayer follows a familiar story arc with added plot twists, actions and characters (a lot more characters).

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a farm boy always dreaming of adventures. He grew up reading the great story of King Erik and the kingdom of the Giants. One day at the market, as Jack is trying to sell his horse and cart so he can fix the decrepit house he and his uncle live in, he has a chance encounter with Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Smitten with the Princess, Jack knows his place even though he has left an impression on Isabelle.

Somehow Jack ends up trading his horse for some beans. His uncle is furious with Jack and knocks the beans on the ground -- one of them falls through the crack between the floor planks. Trying to escape her royal duties and seeking adventures herself, Isabelle is lost in the woods when she comes across Jack's house. The two hardly have time to fall for each other when missing bean magically grows into a giant beanstalk, taking Isabelle with it.

The King (Ian McShane), upon seeing the giant beanstalk, arrives with his rescue warriors, headed by his royal advisor Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and valor knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Jack volunteers to join the rescue as he worries about Isabelle. When they finally reach the top of the beanstalk, they discover a strange land full of grotesque giants -- whose leader is General Fallon (Bill Nighy). Fallon has a plan to lead his warriors down the beanstalk to invade the kingdom. And little do Jack and Elmont know that Roderick has a plan of his own, too.

Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) has lately craved a niche for himself as unlikely fantasy/science fiction heroes. While his role and performance in Warm Bodies were interesting, the same can't be said about this. As Jack, Hoult is bland and generally passive and, in some ways, too much of a nice kid to rise above the material. Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) does better with her character Isabelle -- an interesting mix of traditional damsel in distress and the modern princess warrior. Unfortunately, Hoult and Tomlinson have almost no chemistry together, and the added romantic element to the fairy tale is distracting.

Fortunately, the supporting cast does a better job. Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) is loyal, charming, exciting, valorous, dashing as Elmont. And what great hair he has. One only wishes he were the hero of the story, and not Jack. Ian McShane (Snow White and the Huntsman) is solid and King Brahmwell, who vacillates between arrogance and kind consideration quite nicely. Stanley Tucci (The Hung Games) seems to have had a lot of fun playing the schemer, san that twirled mustache. Bill Nighy (The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel) provides the menacing voice and motion capture for General Fallon, and he does a great job.

Written by an army of writers headed by Darren Lamke (Shrek Forever After), the screenplay is a hodgepodge of familiar stories, cliches, and something new. The story adheres to the time period -- a cross between Medieval and Renaissance -- and the general arc of the original fairy tale. Still, there are plenty of upgrades. No longer just a tale of Jack and the beanstalk, there are many added characters and subplots, including an army of giants who look suspiciously like the trolls in The Hobbit. In many ways, this story and these characters are derivative, filled with old cliches and archetypes. If you're looking for something totally new and fresh, then look elsewhere.

Still, even though confined by these constraints, the movie manages to entertain. It is surprisingly violent and gruesome for a "family" movie, thus the PG-13 rating (don't worry though, parents; there is hardly any sex except maybe some mild kissing between the two leads). Young children may have nightmares afterwards after seeing men (and some sheep) being stomped on and chomped on, kind of like Jurassic Park set in Medieval times (and no, that movie isn't suitable for young children either).

Bryan Singer's (Valkyrie) hasn't directed a movie since 2008, and he jumps back into the fray with such a big budget movie. The risks are certainly there. The fact is, Singer didn't do anything that is phenomenal here, or really leave his mark. Instead, it seems like he is just a director for hire, and his movie could have been directed by someone else and we probably wouldn't even have noticed. That's not the say it is bad. The direction is skillful and the pacing is just fine. The production is quite easy on the eye, and despite some early criticism, the CGIs are adequate.

Jack the Giant Slayer is by no means a disaster. It is just not a very good movie, and it seems such a failure when we consider the budget. In truth, it is an enjoyable escape to a fantasy world which reminds us what it was like to be kids, fascinated by adventures and gruesome monsters. Boxoffice slayer it may not be, but it sure accomplishes what it is supposed to do.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Darren Lamke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney, David Dobkin
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action violence, scary images and brief language
Running Time: 114 minutes


Script - 6
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.0 out of 10.0 

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