Bryan Singer makes a welcome return to the fantasy genre with a new twist on an old classic. Jack the Giant Slayer is his version of the classic children’s story and pantomime favourite Jack and the Beanstalk, but will over-familiarity with the story mean the audience will be left fee, fi, foe, fum…ing?”
Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Albion there lived a group of monks who wished to speak to God. To this end they crafted magic beans that had the power to create a bridge between heaven and earth. Unfortunately for these monks another realm lay between heaven and earth, a fearsome land filled with monstrous giants. These giants used this bridge to descend to the world below and wreak havoc upon the inhabitants of Albion. Only one man cold stop them, the brave Erik, king of Albion, who drove the giants back to their realm and severed the link between the worlds. Hundreds of years later these events have faded into legend and few who live in Albion believe them to be true. Enter Jack, a poor farmboy with a penchant for haplessness. Through a serious of accidental events he finds himself in possession of some unusual beans and host to a runaway princess. When a rainstorm causes the beans to get wet a gigantic beanstalk takes his house, princess and all high into the clouds. Now Jack must embark on a mission to rescue the princess and face whatever lies above…
Nicholas Hoult plays Jack with the naivety, tremendous courage and derring-do that a reluctant hero should have. His portrayal is full of charm and his interactions with Eleanor Tomlinson are charged with real emotion. Tomlinson breaks free of the rebellious teenager role in which she’s been type-cast to give an equally strong performance. Granted she does need a group of men to rescue her but she plays far from the helpless Disney princess that the role might have been. Ewan McGregor as the bravest knight in all of the kingdom looks to be having a great old time. With a finely chopped British accent and a quiff to die for he is bluster and bravado with a real heart. Similarly enjoying the freedom to play against type is Stanley Tucci as the duplicitous Lord Roderick. He has all the menace of a pantomime villain and his comedic pairing with Ewen Bremner provides some of the biggest laughs in the film. Ian McShane is underused as King Brahmwell, which is a pity given his dramatic abilities. Similarly Eddie Marsan and Warwick Davis have little to do but are welcome additions to the ensemble.
The best and worst of what Bryan Singer has done with this tale is to bring the pantomime to fully realised blockbuster level. At its heights the comedy and the visually stunning set-pieces offer the closest to a true fairytale that audiences have seen. At its worst it comes off as campy, cringe-worthy and a little childish. Thankfully the former is in much greater supply than the later. The script has pacing issues with a slow intro and a frantic finale interspersed with a little too much human action and not enough menacing giant activity. As a result of this and familiarity with the story there is little in the way of real tension in the film. The visual effects are very well done with the giants particularly well rendered and coming across as real characters in their own right. The 3D is particularly effective for the giants-eye-view but elsewhere it is utterly redundant. There is a great swashbuckling aesthetic to John Ottman’s score that provides real depth to the on-screen action, channelling the Errol Flynn era fantasy adventures that so obviously served as inspiration to Singer and co.
Overall Jack the Giant Slayer is a wonderfully entertaining piece of family cinema. There’s enough here for all generations to enjoy, with small children really getting a kick out of the burping, snarling giants. It’s not a masterpiece but it is a perfect matinée adventure.