"Jack and the Giant Slayer."
Jack the Giant Slayer
The classic folk tale has become a fascination for Hollywood lately, and the evolution of visual effects has made such stories easier to translate to the big screen. Some succeed (last year's "Snow White and the Huntsman" was decent) while others stumble (2011's "Red Riding Hood" was not). The good news here is that director Bryan Singer's take on the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fable proves to be an excellent adaptation of a time-honored yarn maybe the best yet.
Singer, of "The Usual Suspects" and "X-Men" fame, infuses the film with just the right balance of action, romance and goofy fun. The picture moves at a brisk pace, the effects are spot-on and the script (by Darren Lemke, Dan Studney and Singer's "Usual Suspects" partner Christopher McQuarrie) is refreshingly sharp. If high adventure is what you crave, "Jack the Giant Slayer" has you covered.
Up-and-comer Nicholas Hoult ("Warm Bodies," "X-Men: First Class") plays Jack, a humble farmhand who lives in relative squalor with his uncle. Jack's uncle tasks him with taking a horse to town to sell, and Jack reluctantly parts with the animal for -- you guessed it -- a handful of unusual beans. But the beans' bearer issues an ominous warning: Don't get them wet. Soon after, the kingdom's sheltered princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) shows up at Jack's doorstep seeking refuge from the rain after straying from the castle for some much-needed "me time."
As the chemistry between Jack and Isabelle sizzles, one wayward bean falls beneath the house and sprouts, launching a massive stalk up toward the heavens with the house and Isabelle in tow. Despite Jack's best efforts, he gets left behind. King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) orders his best soldier, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), to lead a team up the stalk to rescue Isabelle. The group which includes Jack, Elmont's fierce friend Crawe (Eddie Marsan) and Brahmwell's less-than-honorable adviser Roderick (Stanley Tucci) makes its way up the sinewy plant to discover a horde of surly giants.
"Jack" is a virtual thrill ride throughout, bolstered by a solid cast and compelling love story. McGregor is all charm as the courageous Elmont, and Hoult's Jack is an admirable blend of heroics and aww-shucks humility. The usually spectacular Tucci (phenomenal in "Big Night" and "The Devil Wears Prada," among other roles) is sadly miscast here and comes across as something of a weak link.
The giants -- especially the dual-headed General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy) -- are visually impressive. In one scene the audience is literally brought face-to-face with a giant, which feels akin to a theme-park ride (in a good way). There is some sophomoric humor here and there, such as the giants' penchant for flatulence and one behemoth's nose-picking urge. The movie reminded this reviewer of fantasy classics like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) or "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963), pictures that relay a sense of adventure and heroism.
And "Jack" pays homage to its literary origins with subtle additions. Keep your eyes open for the gilded egg and magic harp.
Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. One hour, 55 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley