Jack the Giant Slayer continues the recent trend of redoing classic fairy tales, which we've seen in recent films like Snow White and the Huntsman as well as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. While I never got around to seeing either of those, the concept of redoing Jack and the Beanstalk as an epic fantasy adventure sounded appealing to me, so I gave this one a try. My final conclusion is mixed, because while the film's characters and story are disappointingly simple, the visuals and action put together provide enough entertainment to make the film worth a watch.
Taking the basic setup of the original story and adding more characters and factors to it, the film sees peasant Jack (Nicholas Hoult) growing up hearing legends about a colony of giants who live in the sky, and eventually ending up in posession of several magical beans that, in this case, instantly sprout huge beanstalks that can serve as a gateway between both worlds when water is spilled on them. As luck would have it, a thunderstorm breaks out and causes one of the beans to grow, taking with it his home as well as the local princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Thomlinson), who has run off from her palace home and taken refuge in Jack's cottage during the storm.
From there, Jack volunteers to join the king's rescue team, scale the beanstalk, and return the princess safely home. The team includes several random knights, but more importantly, leader Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Roderick (Stanley Tucci), a lord who is set to marry the princess, but may harbor some more sinister intentions. Upon reaching the top, they discover the floating land mass and a fearsome colony of giants, who soon come up with a plan to invade and conquer the human world below.
The movie does not waste much time in getting its main plot going, but still provides enough of a good setup that I thought that particular component found a good balance. I just wish the characters were more fleshed out. Jack doesn't say enough for him to have any sort of memorable personality, Isabelle has the old "free-spirited princess forced to marry against her will" cliched subplot we've seen in Aladdin and numerous other films, and Elmont is a stoic, heroic type and nothing more. I did like the character of Roderick, mainly due to Tucci's slimy performance, but I ended up feeling that he could have gotten more screentime, especially since one of the giants ends up sharing the role of the main villain with him.
Thankfully, the film is heavy on spectacle to make up for its lack of depth in writing, and it generally succeeds on pulling that off in an impressive manner. The CG work on the giants looks great, providing a genuine sense of dread whenever they come into contact with humans. The scenes where characters have to scale the beanstalk have some genuine suspense and stakes as well. Finally, the action goes all out in the last 20 minutes, too, and though I found the end a bit abrupt, many factors of it, including how the last remaining bean is used, are pretty clever.
To sum it up, I think that this isn't a stellar film mainly due to its shallow writing, but it's still a fun one that gets by mainly on its action. It's suitable for families for the most part (An f-bomb dropped towards the end felt really out of place), and I think they're the ones who will get the most out of it. For the rest of us, I'd still recommend seeing it if you're already interested. Just don't expect a classic.