Disney has always been the go-to studio when it comes to fairy tales. They have a giant trophy case of Oscars to prove they know how to do them well. Recently, other Hollywood groups have taken on the oldest of tales (like those by The Brothers Grimm) and given them a modern twist. Some such as Snow White and the Huntsman have worked very well while other such as Mirror, Mirror have not been as successful at the box office. The latest to take on this idea of re-imagining the most classic of classic literature is Jack the Giant Slayer, the newest outing by director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Superman Returns).
This is the story of Jack and the Beanstalk done with a certain flourish. The film starts with a storybook being read to young Jack, a kid who has had a very rough life. The story is also being read to a young princess by her mother. The parallel reading to the children is one of the oldest storytelling devices but it still works to bond different characters.
We jump forward a few years and Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a young tenement farmer working the land with his uncle (Christopher Fairbank). They struggle to make a living and Jack is forced to go to the castle to sell his steed and cart for grain. On the other side of the plot is Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). She is a brazen royal promised to Roderick (Stanley Tucci). We soon discover that Roderick has no interest in the young woman but is interested in power and wealth. He has a grand scheme to take control of not only the kingdom but eventually the world. This plan involves a crown and magic beans hidden in the crypt of an ancient ruler. Graverobbing is not beneath Roderick.
Jack, in the castle market, encounters a monk who is trying to escape the castle and get back to the monastery. It seems as if the monk is trying to thwart the nefarious plans of Roderick. The monk trades Jack the horse for a promise of money if Jack will get the package of beans to the brother monks. In Gremlins-like fashion, Jack is warned not to get the beans wet.
Very soon, on a dark and stormy night, Jack and Isabelle meet in his house. The beans get wet and soon a giant stalk shoots the house in the sky, taking the princess into the heavens. King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) dispenses his knights, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor) into the stratosphere to rescue the princess. They take Jack along. This device ties into Roderick’s plans.
The film slowly builds to the point where everyone has signed on to see giants wreaking havoc. These behemoths are a wonder of computer generation, scary and comical in equal measure. We soon discover that they too must live by an ancient code of divine rule but they also want to be able to roam the land once more. The lead giant is a two-headed monster much more like Gollum from the Peter Jackson flicks.
The film builds to a giant confrontation between the forces of good and the giants, battling for control of the kingdom. It is a rollercoaster ride of an ending, with explosions, fire and destruction on an epic scale. It is breathtaking in scope. Director Bryan Singer proves that he can deliver action on a bigger scale than he did on X-Men. This film is much more of a ride than a motion picture experience but it is definitely an ‘E Ticket’ thrill. Though the movie is violent, very little blood and guts are shown. He does the smart trick of cutting before the mayhem is fully shown.
This should be a breakout year for Nicholas Hoult. The young actor from About a Boy made a giant splash in the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies. Here he gets to show off some leading man skills while still showing a rogue charm. This is the kind of role that establishes a career and turns one into a teen heartthrob.
Both Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane give their standard performance, meaning that they were brilliant. Tucci especially gets a chance to relish in bad guy swagger. He is cunning and crafty while still being too smart for his own good. It is fun to watch him chew on the scenes while keeping a devious snarl on his lip.
Eleanor Tomlinson has a thankless job in the movie. Her character is more put-upon than an agent of the plot. Still the young actress does her best in this objectifying role, with a winning smile and a slight perchance at delivering comic moments. It should give her one up on some of the other starlets in Hollywood. It’s a charming if trite performance.
Jack the Giant Slayer is a much better film that one may expect. It has some of the silly references akin to the old Fractured Fairytales cartoons from decades ago with a giant flourish of CGI to please the video crazed patrons. It is a pleasant surprise for just about every audience.