‘Giant Slayer’ aims high, falls a little short
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is Hollywood’s latest “reimagining” of a classic fairy tale.
We’ve been subjected to the angst-ridden likes of “Red Riding Hood,” Kristen Stewart’s hollow-eyed stare in “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the sheer absurdity that is “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
But “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” with director Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) at the helm, strives to be different.
Unlike those others, “Jack” remains true to itself in that it’s a fairy tale and doesn’t aim to be something it’s not. Singer’s approach isn’t to make this fable dark and gritty, like the trend du jour, but rather colorful and fun.
And to that extent, it works. Singer keeps the characters light and two-dimensional and the plot pretty straightforward. While this works well in fairy tales, which aren’t exactly known for their rich character development, it doesn’t translate quite as well to a nearly two-hour feature film.
Nonetheless, it works better than those dark reimaginings, so we’re left to appreciate the film at face value, which, as far as entertainment goes, isn’t all that bad.
The film opens with a bit of backstory, explaining that long ago, giants waged war on mankind and were subsequently banished to their kingdom above the clouds by the noble King Erik.
Centuries later, Erik’s youngest descendant, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, “Alice in Wonderland”) remembers this tale as her favorite bedtime story, as does farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult, “Warm Bodies”).
Both dream of adventure – something seemingly unattainable considering their inherited social statuses. Nonetheless, adventure seems to find them. The two coincidentally meet in the royal city, just before Jack accidentally obtains a handful of supposedly magic beans.
When one of those beans gets wet, a massive beanstalk emerges and tangles its way into the heavens, whisking the princess away with it.
Now it’s up to Jack, Captain of the Guard Elmont (Ewan McGregor, “Big Fish”) and a group of other adventurers to scale the beanstalk and rescue her — before the giants descend. Unfortunately for everyone, the expedition includes Isabelle’s scheming suitor, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci, “Easy A”), whose intentions are less than pure.
To make matters worse, upon reaching the giants’ kingdom, they learn that giant Gen. Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy, “Shaun of the Dead”) has a dastardly plot of his own.
Unfortunately, that plot doesn’t involve conjuring better computer-generated special effects. There are times where “Jack” is a visual spectacle, particularly with the beanstalk and some of its breathtaking vistas, but many of the larger-than-life villains leave something to be desired.
The casting, however, works quite well. These characters are far from deep, but the principles fully embrace their roles and what they have to work with, particularly McGregor, whose kindhearted knight is a refreshing return to the classical archetype.
But it’s not just McGregor. In many respects, like set design, costuming and characters, “Jack” plays like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn adventure from yesteryear. While it’s far from perfect, it’s somewhat original. And in today’s Hollywood, that’s a giant undertaking.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.