Jack the Giant Slayer
Directed by Bryan Singer
Screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney
Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor
How long is Jack the Giant Slayer? 114 minutes.
What is Jack the Giant Slayer rated? PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language.
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Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, Blood, Englishmen, etc. Everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, I’m assuming, and Bryan Singer takes on the classic tale with the big budget adventure Jack the Giant Slayer. After several years of filmmakers bastardizing The Grimms and their ilk, Singer plays this film straight down the center as a pure fairy tale movie — both thankfully and unfortunately.
The story of Jack the Giant Slayer is more-or-less the one we know, though with some additions, which I will get into below, and subtractions, such as no goose that laid the golden egg. However, with the exception of a convoluted and pointless backstory linking the giants to the humans in the ‘Before Time,’ the elements added don’t seem too out of place for a fairy tale. We begin with poor, era-appropriate farm boy Jack played by hovering-on-the-borders-of-stardom-and-better-than-most-young-actors Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men: First Class). Growing up hoping for adventure and loving storybooks, he’s sent into town to sell the family horse and winds up swindled for magic beans. Meanwhile, Princess Isabel (Elanor Tomlinson), daughter of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), is also suffering from wanderlust, a penchant for fantasy tales, and a disappointment that she’s been promised as a wife to the scheming Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who has a magic crown that makes its wearer King of the Giants…or something. Ewan McGregor is also on board as Elmont, head of the King’s guard.
Eventually, Isabel winds up in Jack’s cabin during a rainstorm. A bean gets wet and the beanstalk grows, which leaves Jack earthbound and Isabel in the clouds. So up goes Roderick, his Baldrickian lackey Wicke (Ewen Bremner, Spud from Trainspotting), Elmont, Jack, and several red shirts to save her and protect the kingdom.
The Land of the Giants is pretty lackluster in appearance. The woodsy environment looks more like the home of the Cyclops in Wrath of the Titans than something more whimsical or dangerous, but I guess that’s better than an entirely CGI landscape. Beyond that, the effects were better than I anticipated with, what I assumed to be, a good amount of conventional props and sets. Moreover, the character designers made the giants look different enough from one another that you could tell them apart a lot of the time. This isn’t to say the giants have personalities — there’s a leader and then there’s everyone else — but at least somebody put in some effort somewhere. And, although Bill Nighy voices the head giant, they would have probably been better served without language.
But the unexciting world is part of what makes Jack the Giant Slayer work to an extent. In this movie, its lack of ambition actually becomes somewhat ambitious. Jack the Giant Slayer is a fairy tale. It never forgets what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more. It doesn’t become some ultraviolent, crazy-weaponed spectacular (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters); some pop culture riff-a-long (Shrek); a morally ambiguous Twilight knock off (Red Riding Hood); overly snarky/cutesy (Mirror Mirror); or “realistic” (Snow White and the Huntsman). Magic beans are magic beans — not some genetically altered strain developed by an evil alchemist. Good is good and evil is evil.
This is the movie’s most positive quality. For so many years, it has felt as if we’ve watched movies play dress up, putting on costumes of somberness, 21st century cynicism, and faux-complexity in an attempt to appear more adult or more mature than they actually are; but this trick never works and only helps to highlight flaws. Surprisingly, it becomes a reprieve to see a fairy tale movie that understands and accepts that it’s a fairy tale movie. Writers Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After), Dan Studney (Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical), and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) never stray too far from the genre’s clearly defined boundaries and thankfully make King Brahmwell a decent leader rather than an insensitive, vain bastard. The surefootedness of director Bryan Singer (X-Men; The Usual Suspects) further aids the movie by showing the talents of a more veteran director in utilizing actors, creating a decent looking film, and keeping a level head and consistent tone.
However, lack of ambition is still lack of ambition. Jack the Giant Slayer may be pleasant, decently made, and comfortable in its own skin, but so what? There are certainly likable things about it, but overall, it doesn’t offer much beyond being not bad…at least for adults. Children might get more out of this movie since, as a genuine fairy tale, it should appeal to them more. The undeserved PG-13 rating will possibly dissuade parents from taking younger viewers to Jack, but they are the ones who would probably get the most enjoyment out of this simplistic tale of good vs. evil and uncomplicated heroism. The few deaths in the picture aren’t treated with levity, and beyond those, it doesn’t contain any particularly offensive material. The rating will potentially keep it from its target audience, and though older viewers may come away enjoying some aspects, its memory will quickly fade.