Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures
Did the world need a feature-length adaptation of one of the most popular children’s fairy tales of all time? No. Is “Jack the Giant Slayer” an effects-heavy and kid-friendly action adventure, the worst possible version of such an adaptation? Also no.
In fact, at times, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is quite enjoyable. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, the actors are energetic without taking themselves too seriously and the special effects supply the intended level of grandeur to the juvenile proceedings. Low expectations should serve this modestly entertaining, surprise-free spectacle well.
Since the debut of its uninspired trailer, entertainment pundits have been comparing this film’s trajectory to that of last year’s “John Carter.” That expensive sci-fi epic failed due to a combination of inept marketing and ill-advised moviemaking. Iits dense mythology and chaotic visuals made for an underwhelming trailer, and Taylor Kitsch as the eponymous hero lacked the spark to carry the movie on his shoulders.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” by contrast, has the good sense not to rely too heavily on its handsome, generic male lead, Nicholas Hoult (“Warm Bodies”). He acquits himself fairly well but leaves the heavy lifting to the capable support staff, including Stanley Tucci (“The Hunger Games”), Ian McShane (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and Ewan McGregor (“The Impossible”). Furthermore, director Bryan Singer (“Valkyrie”) modulates the special effects so that they appear as expensive and grandiose as those in “John Carter” but serve the story rather than the other way around.
That story deviates little from the classic tale. Jack is a poor farm boy duped into selling his uncle’s only source of income, a horse, for three magic beans in lieu of money. Lo and behold, those magic beans sprout a giant beanstalk, a ladder to a mythical realm where fearsome giants have been kept at bay as punishment for betraying humans many years ago. Adventure awaits the characters as the giants seek revenge.
The obligatory love interest, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, “Alice in Wonderland”), lacks dynamism, but is not entirely confined to the role of “damsel in distress.” At one point, she complains that she wants to accomplish more than her position as queen will allow, a refreshing twist on the fantasy that being a princess is the epitome of glamour.
The aforementioned character actors add pep when Hoult is too busy smoldering. Tucci is nothing less than his typical delightful self as the villainous Lord Roderick, Isabelle’s fiancé, who may or may not have an evil plot or two up his sleeve. McGregor seems to relish the role of the well-informed sidekick, the King’s assistant Elmont, and McShane’s gravitas suits the role of the King well.
The special effects aren’t as revolutionary as “Avatar” nor as gorgeous as “Life of Pi,” but the attention to detail evident in the giants offsets their visibly digitized origins. Singer and his cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (“Drive”) even pull off a few beautiful shots, mostly involving curling beanstalks.
The script is not without groaners. At one point, McGregor tells another character he’s “barking up the wrong beanstalk,” and several bits of toilet humor pander too aggressively to the younger crowd. Nonetheless, the narrative’s straightforward progression suits the material’s simplicity.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is like a non-poisonous snake: harmless and amusing. Thanks to a sense of humor, some impressive visuals and the presence of accomplished character actors, it’s no travesty.
It’s not a “giant” achievement, but it’ll do.