One day Nicholas Hoult will be a household name, but “Jack the Giant Slayer” won’t be the movie to catapult him to leading status.
Probably the best thing that can be said about Bryan Singer’s take on the centuries-old fairy tale about a hapless farm boy who becomes a valiant hero is that it could have been worse — way worse. Actually, aside from the film being a bit confused as to who its audience is, it’s actually pretty watchable. It’s quite possibly the best of the recently released fairy tale reboots in Hollywood (“Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”), but that’s not really saying much.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is an action-packed mashup of the old tales, “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Jack and the Bean Stalk.” It’s not so much a re-imagining, as it adds little to the classic tales, but is more of a re-telling.
Hoult stars as the titular Jack in this familiar story. Much to his uncle’s dismay, Jack trades their horse and buggy for a bag of magic beans. That night, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) in disguise arrives at Jack’s doorstep, asking for shelter from a rainstorm. Isabelle has escaped her father’s kingdom because she is going to be forced to wed her father’s weasel of an advisor Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci). Is it just me or do storybook kings have a real tough time picking out advisors?
The magic beans, which in the same vein of the Mogwai creatures in “Gremlins” cannot get wet or bad things happen, fall out of the bag, slip through the cracks in Jack’s house and sprout into a giant beanstalk within moments. Jack’s house, with the princess in it, is taken up to the land of the giants while Jack falls to the ground below.
Jack, as well as Roderick — who unbeknownst to everyone else has stolen a magical crown that will allow him to rule the giants and take over the kingdom — join a search party of the king’s elite guards led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to climb the stalk and find the princess.
Once in giant land, Roderick unveils his evil plan — really, how did they not see this coming? — and sics the giants on Elmont and his crew. The heroes must find a way to keep these CGI behemoths from taking over the kingdom below.
The main problem with “Jack the Giant Slayer” is that it is fairly generic. No characters really stick out — nothing about them makes you care enough if they win or lose against the evil giants. All the daring escapes and epic battles don’t mean a thing if you don’t truly care about their outcome.
The other aspect of the film that just doesn’t work is its confused identity. “Jack the Giant Slayer” isn’t sure if it wants to be an adult or children’s film. A giant will gruesomely chomp a human in half and then a few minutes later will fart or pick its nose in an attempt to get the audience to laugh. The film just didn’t know which direction to go, as glaringly evident from the main villain, Fallon, the two-headed leader of the giants. While the main head (voiced by Bill Nighy channelling his “Pirates of the Caribbean” voice) is meant to solicit fear from the audience — and could have — the second smaller, goofy, misshapen head (voiced by John “The Cryptkeeper” Kassir) seems to be an attempt at comic relief. The problem is — and this is a big one — he isn’t funny. Had Singer and his crew of writers, led by long-time collaborator Christopher McQuarrie of “The Usual Suspects” fame, picked one direction or the other to take the movie in, it could have been much better.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is currently playing at the B & B Ritz 8 Theatre on Jefferson Avenue next to the Lebanon-Laclede County Library.