A hero with a heart of gold, a cause worth fighting for, a nemesis worthy of the challenge, and a happy ending—that is what great fairy tales. Even when we take them and make them our own, add modern technology and Hollywood’s biggest stars, that heart must remain or the story is lost.
The heart of Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” tries desperately to cling to that fairy tale center, but simpleton giants, inexplicably malevolent noblemen, and a sometimes feminist princess create quite the distraction.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) grew up in very different circumstances. One, a farm boy raised by his father. The other, a princess surrounded by all of life’s finest things. Their one common thread is their bedtime story, the story of the giants. It’s a true tale that has drifted into legend of the giants that live between the earth and the heavens.
The bedtime story goes like this: In their quest to be closer to God, the monks grew magic beans to grow stalks that would allow them to climb into the heavens. On their way to God they found the giants and the giants found they liked the taste of man. Chaos and carnage ensued and it was only due to a magic crown and the heroics of a now long-dead King Eric the Great that the giants were returned to their land and kept there…for a time.
Much like in the story we remember, although with slightly altered details, Jack is given the beans in exchange for his horse. This is only after rescuing the incognito Princess Isabelle as she was being rescued by the cheesy but suave Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor). Meanwhile Isabelle’s fiance, the much older and melodramatically evil for evil’s sake Roderick (Stanley Tucci) hunts for the very beans Jack has been given.
You can probably guess what happens next…hint: it starts with fee fi fo fum…
In case you couldn’t already tell, this film is slightly bloated with characters, and I haven’t even mentioned most of them. All of the characters seem interesting and are well acted by great actors. The problem is there are so many of them and so much going on that it’s hard to really care about any of them at all. They’re supposed to be important, that much is certain, they’re heroic, but there’s not much more than that. For a 3D movie, this film has quite the influx of two-dimensional characters ( I couldn’t help myself…it was there).
The real victims here are the giants, it’s not enough that the humans invaded their land, attempted to enslave them and then did it again. Must we portray them as massive, moronic oafs? If you’re not going to explain why Roderick (our villain) is destroying mankind you could at least give his involuntary colossal army some humanity. They are allowed one brief moment of believability, a “history is written by the victors” moment, if you will, when the humans’ Eric the Great is called Eric the Horrible. But it’s quickly forgotten among the farts, snot, and stumbles along the way.
Then there’s Isabelle’s “girl power.” Not every movie has to be female empowering. In fact, with a title like “Jack the Giant Slayer” it’s not really a prerequisite at all, but I have to object to setting up the only female character as independent, free thinking, and wanting an adventure only to have her fall into the same damsel in distress file by the end of the film. Dressing her in practically the same armor that Kristin Stewart wore in “Snow White and the Huntsman” does not alone an anti-princess make.
What I have to say next is going to be quite shocking: I actually liked this movie. It was fun, witty, fast-paced. The dialogue was quite astonishing at times and they made some really, really interesting choices in its use of the original material—the ending blew my mind (sequel alert). The problem again is there was just too much of it, so much of it that none of it got fully realized. But for a Saturday afternoon at the movies waiting for another summer of superheroes to begin I can’t complain.
You can’t talk about Jack and the Beanstalk and not mention this song: