Jack the Giant Slayer
Starring Elanor Tomlinson, Nicholas Hout and Ewan McGregor
The film follows a familiar formula resuscitated by Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”: take a popular children’s story, apply some modern sensibilities, and try to spin a new twist on an old tale. “Jack the Giant Slayer” isn’t the world’s most original film. Nor does it convince me these overpriced spectacles aren’t painfully similar. It is, however, smart and charming enough to make me believe there is still some new life to be found in these old stories.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a well-intentioned peasant living in the kingdom of Cloister. A beautiful princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is dealing with an arranged marriage and a suffocating life. She and Jack cross paths and there’s a spark between them. Things get complicated when Jack and his magic beans accidentally create a giant beanstalk into the sky, taking his house and the princess with it. The king (Ian McShane) tasks his head knight, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), with returning her safely; Jack talks his way into tagging along. His pangs of responsibility, plus his raging hormones, send him up the beanstalk and into the lair of the mythical giants. That’s giants—plural.
The king’s rescue party is no match for the towering army of giants, who take apart the kingdom’s fiercest warriors with little effort. Only Jack remains to try and free them before they become the main course. This normal search-and-rescue mission has a sinister turn as the princess’ betrothed Roderick (the great Stanley Tucci) uses a magical crown to enslave the giants so he can become the ultimate tyrannical ruler.
So much of “Jack the Giant Slayer” works because of the casting. There are many quality actors here having fun with this ridiculous premise. Talent like Tucci and McGregor feel spry and entertaining. There’s an effortlessness to the cast of the film that is so desperately lacking in others of the genre (“Snow White and the Huntsman” springs to mind). What the film also has going for it is a sense of joviality; very little here is taken too seriously. While it’s not as over the top and fearless as something like “The Princess Bride,” there’s a sense of whimsy and occasional ridiculousness that feels right for a movie set in a fairy-tale world.
Credit goes to Nicholas Hoult, who brings buckets of earnestness and sincerity to the role of the hapless young hero. He’s a likable leading man. After watching so many actors stumble through this kind of material (Franco in “Oz”) or sleepwalk through the film (Renner in “Hansel and Gretel”), it seems so obvious how important casting is to the equation of a movie’s success.
I found myself appreciating the more practical feel of the visuals. Yes, this movie is still drenched in special effects. Each giant is another massive motion-capture performance, but they have personality. And most of the human characters feel like they are existing in a real environment, not some green-screen-covered soundstage. It’s a refreshing change of pace after sitting through so many obviously manufactured cinematic worlds.
Ultimately, the movie is a little long. Like other films in the genre, it has to end with a massive third-act battle with heavy emphasis on destruction. I’m not sure why every fairy tale re-imagining has to turn into a “Lord of the Rings”-type calamitous fight. Again, this particular genre has been anything but original. So we get all of our plot points tied up with fires burning and buildings collapsing. Originally, most of these stories were written to put kids to sleep; yet, they all seem to end with a caffeinated bang.
While I can deduct a few points for adhering so closely to the formula, there are enough little flourishes in “Jack the Giant Slayer” to recommend it. It is, by far, the best film of its ilk, and hopefully one of the last.