‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ retells the classic fairy tale with IMAX-ready, 3D special effects but is far more humdrum than fe-fi-fo-fum.
Nicholas Hoult (‘Warm Bodies’) plays the 18-year-old Jack, a young farmer’s boy in rural England, who lives in the kingdom of Cloister. Jack yearns for excitement beyond the farm, and he readily finds an adventure when a monk (who had been protecting the secret of the magic beans) quickly and unexpectedly hands Jack the beans in exchange for Jack’s horse. The Monk had been trying to get away from Roderick, a nefarious advisor of the King’s court (Stanley Tucci), who secretly wants to control the beans. Roderick conspires to overthrow the power of the king, as the beans lead, of course, to the famous beanstalk. And, in this retelling, what lies at the top of the beanstalk is a dominion of giants, who hate humans, but Roderick plans to control them as his personal army.
Jack, though, is unaware of all of Roderick’s underhanded plans, and, instead, just becomes the temporary keeper of the beans. As this tale goes, Jack loses a bean underneath his creaky farmhouse floorboards, eventually prompting a tremendous beanstalk to sprout, and, unintentionally, makes a path between the human world and the giants’ realm. The kingdom’s adventurous princess Isabelle (a la Merida in ‘Brave’), ends up captured by the giants, and Jack (along with the king’s personal guard, Ewan McGregor) must ascend the beanstalk to rescue the princess, defeat the giants, and, ultimately, attempt to save the earthbound kingdom from the skyward colossal giants.
The film, itself, is a fairly predictable recapitulation of the well-known story with a few bonus details and surprises. Its first half is very much a fairy tale, with a cute blooming romance between young Jack and brave Isabelle. And, yet, Tucci, usually a standout in any film, gives an unusual, distracting, and over-the-top performance as vile Roderick. His performance leads the audience to sometimes ponder if the film’s uneven tone is intended to be campy or solely action-adventure. More bothersome, though, is the second half’s appearance of the CGI-generated giants. Although the giants and their beanstalk realm are well-created, and reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Rings’-style special effects, they have little personality and bring a general ho-hum in their unbridled mayhem in the kingdom. Further, the film could have easily lost at least a half-hour of its 114-minute running time by cutting down on the protracted chases and reoccurring giant-human battles. A focus more on the real flesh and blood actors, and less on the majesty of visual effects, might have brought this entire tale to life. Instead, ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ brings the audience nice eye-candy but little freshness. Rated 3 of 5 ('mildly recommended') stars.
‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language.
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