After young Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is sent off to sell his caretaker's horse he crosses paths with a monk who is on the run from the evil Prince Roderick (Stanley Tucci). The monk takes the horse and gives Jack some magic beans as collateral, but Jack's caretaker isn't convinced of their magical properties and discards of them. Meanwhile, the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) runs away from her responsibilities at the kingdom and happens upon Jack's home during a horrible storm. Taking shelter, the two begin to bond when all of a sudden a giant beanstalk begins to grow from under them and raises both the house and the Princess into the heavens above. When news reaches the king (Ian McShane) about his daughter's disappearance he immediately dispatches his royal guard led by the dashing Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to bring her back with Jack tagging along for the ride. Little do any of them realize that an ancient legend awaits them up above the clouds that is more real than they believe.
After being delayed nearly a full year, taken out of the busy summer season and having some tweaks done to both the effects and script during its hiatus, this isn't even close to the train wreck most were expecting. Even with an advertising campaign that did little to inspire confidence or any real star power to draw in crowds of non-believers, there is still a lot to like about director Bryan Singer's new fantasy revisionist tale "Jack the Giant Slayer". Those looking for a fun ride through a fantastical world filled with perilous danger around every corner will likely be able to look past the films unfortunate shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is, a large scale adventure that is big on fun. But the few flaws the film does have keeps it from attaining the greatness it sought after.
Say what you will about Hollywood's recent fascination with fairy tales turned big budget event movies, it may just be a fad and may not even work out too well all the time but when it does work it can be a whole lot of fun. "Jack the Giant Slayer" is one of the few recent examples of when that formula works, taking the classic tale and adding extra layers of character, story and adventure could have been disastrous if handled poorly, but Singer knew the areas to properly expand the world of Jack, the giants and those magic beans. Even purist fans of the fairy tale (is there such a thing?) will find themselves wondering what will happen next mostly in thanks to all the clever additions made by Singer and his writing team. The story is as straight forward as one could hope for but yet there is always this overwhelming sense of the unknown, even when we know what Jack and the others will find up the beanstalk there is still this ever present sense of danger that keeps us intrigued enough to care where the story is going. Which is important since the characters don't exactly do much to help us connect with them.
As our main character, Jack is sadly a little too one dimensional. Granted, he is more courageous, intelligent and has battled that fear of heights he has by the time the story is over, but he never feels like a fully realized character. The same can be said for the Princess whose actions and words are decisive but she is often times relegated to the sidelines during the films more intense moments. This isn't meant to be a knock on them because these characters were never meant to be anything more than these archetypes for us to follow along with on this grand adventure and they do their job well. Particular praise should go to the actors themselves, Hoult and Tomlinson, whose natural charm and on screen chemistry together goes a long way in adding some much needed depth to their characters.
Likewise, all of the actors should be commended for bringing to the table a great sense of fun and adventure to their roles. Without a doubt, the single most excited individual in the film has to be Ewan McGregor as the King's right hand man, Elmont. From that mesmerizing haircut, those little twists at the end of his mustache and that fanciful grin that is always gracing his well kept face, he just looks like he is having the time of his life in this role. Stanley Tucci chews the scenery like the pro he is as the villainous Prince and even his henchman played by well known character actor Ewen Bremner steals a few scenes of his own. Ian McShane as the King brings a surprising amount of nobility to his character and never succumbs to the usual pitfall of actors portraying royalty by never seeming aloof or ignorant to the events around him. Even Eddie Marsan's brief appearance leaves an impression. Those are just he human players though, the giants themselves add a whole other element of fun to the film when they finally show up.
The film has many saving graces in varying forms, but none more so than the giants themselves. While all the stuff on the ground level during the opening sequences are moderately entertaining, it isn't until we start climbing that beanstalk when the film truly comes to life. Taking more than a little inspiration from Peter Jackson's "King Kong", where a group of men go off into a dangerous and uncharted land to rescue a damsel in distress, when Jack, Elmont and the other brave men of the King's guard start exploring the land of the giants the films pace really picks up from that point forward and never slows down. From their eerie first encounter with one of the giants, to a showdown in the giant's kitchen between a nasty old giant who wants to cook them, to the climatic moment when the beanstalk is cut down and the resulting fall out (literally), it's hard to imagine anyone not having a good time with the film.
But there are some nagging issues that could keep many potential fans of the film from fully endorsing it, mainly the inconsistent effects work and tone of the film keep it from attaining ultimate glory. While the giants look fine and all have a distinct look to them (love the one with the afro), the detail in their facial features is sorely lacking compared to other more recent fantasy fare ("The Hobbit") and they aren't given any real distinct personalities beyond their hunger for human meat. It was also really sad that they weren't able to implement more elements of the fairy tale into the film. Sure, we have magic beans, a beanstalk and giants, but what about the golden eggs? When Jack arrives in the giant's treasure room they show us the golden harp (very briefly) but it may have been just any golden object since it's magical properties seem to be absent. We simply needed more time in the land of the giants in general, our stay there is all too brief but perhaps that is just a sign of how well that section of the film worked that we would want more of it.
The tone will likely confuse many parents conflicted on whether or not to take their children to theater. With a combination of a high body count (lots of secondary and main characters die...often) and the general nature in which they are dispatched (giants don't mind biting through armor and bone) mixed with the more light hearted moments (such Jack and the group play a prank of sorts on an unsuspecting giant) and a total lack of blood make the film feel like it is serving two different masters. One that wants to cater to children and another that wants to cater to the blood lust of adults and by never going far enough one way or the other, it sadly leaves both sides unfulfilled.
Is "Jack the Giant Slayer" a good film though? It's hard to say. At first glance the easy answer would be yes, it's certainly not a bad film by any means. It was entertaining, had decent enough effects work and had a great sense of adventure and mystery to it with plenty of twists and turns in the narrative that may surprise some people. It nails that much needed epic feel and has an all around excellent cast to help sell it. But, despite all that, it still feels somewhat detached, like Singer wanted it to be one way and at some point it was pulled in a different direction that left the final product with somewhat of a split personality disorder. All of that aside though, anyone in the market for a fun fantasy adventure could do much much worse than "Jack the Giant Slayer", so forget all the naysayers and go see it now because it will likely be overshadowed by next week's big release.