A centuries-old fable gets a 21st century makeover in Jack the Giant Slayer, a fee-fi-ho-hum big-budget action-adventure fantasy with impressive effects, a rather dull hero, and the promise of interesting twists to the classic story that are never fully realized.
In this updated version, Jack, his magic beans, and the massive beanstalk are about the only holdovers from the familiar British folktale. Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, working from previous scripts from other writers, expands the story to include a race of bloodthirsty giants, a widower king and his adventurous daughter, a treacherous servant, and valiant knights.
The premise is that long before the story of Jack, a group of monks, seeking a pathway to heaven, planted a magic seed and ventured up the miles-high beanstalk to the clouds, where they met a gruesome fate at the hands of giants. These loathsome human beasts then climbed down to pillage the kingdom and dine on human flesh. It was only through a crown imbued with dark magic that the good king was able to control the giants and order them back to their home. The beanstalk was then chopped down so the giants could never return.
And so the story turned to history and then to legend as it was passed down through the centuries.
Until Jack (Nicholas Hoult) inadvertently activates a magic bean, and the gigantic beanstalk takes his cabin into the sky, along with Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) inside. The princess is running away from her father and the impending marriage forced upon her, and happens upon Jack to escape the rain.
And so Jack, along with several of the king's best defenders, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor), climb the towering plant to rescue the princess. Tagging along with this group is the villainous Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the king's servant who plans to use the magic crown to rule the giants and with their help take over the kingdom.
Most of the adventurers meet with horrible deaths, which means it's ultimately up to Jack and Elmont to rescue Princess Isabelle and stop Roderick and the giant invasion.
While there's a wealth of imaginative ideas in the story, there's not much magic on screen. It doesn't help that the film is washed out, casting a dreary pall on what should have been a colorful adventure.
Hoult brings little charisma to his role, and Tomlinson offers scant more, leading to romantic sparks that appear to be doused by cold water. Even Jack the Giant Slayer's heavy hitters are out of sorts in this identity-crisis of a film, as it dramatically shifts tones from grimmer than Grimm to more juvenile than a Seth MacFarlane marathon. One of the best character actors in movies today, Tucci is vastly wasted playing a stock villain, while McGregor is so determined to liven the film, he channels his Obi-wan Kenobi (listen for a familiar Star Wars line), albeit with a towering moussed-up 'do that seems impervious to weather, helmets, and giants.
A writer-director pair that made names for themselves with 1995's The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie offers gross-out jokes for the kids and only a few one-liners that connect while director Bryan Singer gives us a film with an identity crisis.
Formulaic as it is, Jack the Giant Slayer represents a forward momentum for Singer after his drowsy 2006 reboot, Superman Returns. The film also offers impressive visuals, especially the CGI giants, as created by the movements of real actors. The original release date of Jack the Giant Slayer was pushed back several months, in part, to accommodate the special effects crew. As it turns out, that was the least of the film's problems.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney and David Dobkin. A Warner Brothers release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images, and brief language. Running time: 113 minutes.
Critic's rating: **
King Brahmwell.......Ian McShane
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.
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