Making dark interpretations of fairy tales is a dicey business. If you go too kid-friendly, you get last March's disastrous Mirror Mirror. If you aim for adults only, you get January's Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which, while fun, was bittersweet at the box office. It seems that, when adapting such tales, making them as inclusive as possible seems to be the best way to go.
Fortunately, Jack the Giant Slayer does this brilliantly, making a film filled with humor and action that the whole family can enjoy. That is, assuming the kids have been raised on The Lord of the Rings, which isn't that much of a stretch.
The story starts with the telling of King Eric the Great, who vanquished the giant menace with the use of a magical crown that allows the bearer of it to control the evil race. Generations later, we find Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), not pleased with his impending arranged marriage, finds that he's been robbed of the mythical beans he has unearthed. Worse yet, the beans end up in the hands of the unwitting Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a young farm boy who has an unlikely taste for books. When Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) runs away from her kingdom, her and Jack get embroiled in the world of giants, led by the villainous Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy), who yearns to rid King Eric's bloodline and exact revenge on mankind.
Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) takes us to literal new heights in this fractured fairy tale from the twisted minds of writers Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, The Usual Suspects), Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, TV's Lost), and Dan Studney (2005's Reefer Madness, i.e. the musical version). Blending dry humor with intense action sequences, this unlikely team of writers and Singer bring the childhood story to life in a fashion that the LOTR generation can appreciate -- whimsical and delightful, yet dark and violent.
Nicholas Hoult continues to show he's not the kid from About a Boy anymore. Holding his own against brilliant actors like Ian McShane (who plays King Brahmwell) and Ewan MacGreggor (who plays Elmont, the leader of the king's guardians), Hoult displays wonderful range, proving again this year that he can be a leading man, and damn good one at that.
While the film's brief forays into toilet humor are a bit detracting, Jack the Giant Slayer still manages to be respectful of all audiences. Though the film is quite violent and probably not a good choice for kids under eight (you know, the kids who haven't seen the last three Harry Potter films), Jack is an amazing film, complete with stunning visuals and snappy dialogue, and is the year's most entertaining film thus far by a wide margin. It may not be the ticket to making dark fairy tale re-imaginings more plentiful, but it certainly is a thrill-ride worth taking.
FINAL VERDICT: Jack the Giant Slayer is wildly entertaining, thanks to Bryan Singer's brilliant direction and Nicholas Hoult's amazing take on the classic titular character. Though it won't undo the ill-will of other fairy tale re-imaginings like Mirror Mirror, it will provide a fairy tale all ages can enjoy.