Imaginative Jack a Gigantic Adventure
To steal a line from Disney, itís a tale as old as time. Young kid, farmerís son, forced to go into town to sell the familyís favorite horse, comes back with a handful of magic beans instead of cold, hard cash, gets berated for his stupidity, discovers the beans are magical when a massive beanstalk grows from the earth into the heaves, climbs up, discovers a race of man-eating giants, rescues a princess, gets everything he ever dreamed of and more; like I said, itís a familiar story.
Ian McShane, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson and Nicholas Hoult in Jack the Giant Slayer © Warner Bros
But that didnít stop X-Men and The Usual Suspects filmmaker Bryan Singer from wanting to bring it to life. Working from a story from Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) and David Dobkin (Fred Claus), crafting a screenplay alongside Lemke, frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Valkyrie) and television veteran Dan Studney(ďWeird ScienceĒ), the filmmaker has attempted to rework the fairy tale for modern audiences while still staying true to its classical roots, using the latest in CG and motion capture technology to help him do it.
The result is Jack the Giant Slayer, originally slated to open last summer but pushed to early this year to avoid comparisons to Snow White and the Huntsman and to get out of the way of Marvelís The Avengers, all of which was probably a good decision on the part of Warner Bros. Happily, unlike many movies delayed to later dates this one is a rollicking good time sure to put a smile on the majority of the faces it plays for. Unhappily, there is something a little tired about the film, something a little rudimentary and routine, and as beautifully as much of it can play and as handsome as the production is there is a slight been there-done that aura thatís sadly omnipresent.
Still, Singer know how to orchestrate stuff like this with breathless confidence, setting up his version of the story effortlessly, introducing us to our hero Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and our heroine Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) with dexterous simplicity. He and his team also get their pieces strategically placed upon the board, giving us all we need to know about the Princessí stubborn father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), her supposed protector Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and her duplicitous betrothed Count Roderick (Stanley Tucci) with magnetic grace.
From there events move forward with a speedy charm thatís somewhat unusual for most Hollywood blockbusters of this size and scope, Singer jovially bouncing towards the preordained events concerning pint-sized Jack facing off against towering giants with giddy enthusiasm. Sure the plot points concerning a magic crown, Roderickís trickery and the leader of the giantsí, dim-witted two-headed monster General Fallon (voiced and portrayed by Bill Nighy, with John Kassir filling in as his unnamed smaller head), desire to suck on Isabelleís bones gets a tad silly at times, but the story itself still works and is constantly compelling, never once belittling the intelligence of the audience for the sake of a cheap joke or a supercilious thrill.
But as nice as all of this is, as fetching as the production might be, as fun as certain elements are and as glorious as the chemistry between Hoult Ė as quick a rising star as there is right now Ė and Tomlinson proves to be, the forgone nature of all of this coupled with the aftereffects of the likes of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, ABCís ďOnce Upon a TimeĒ and other various fairy tale adaptations is difficult to dismiss. While the movie hits all its beats and goes through its motions with energetic aplomb, I canít say I was continually engaged every step of the way, and as fun as it is on the whole the movie suffers from current fairy tale overload (some would say hysteria).
General Fallon and his little head (right) in Jack the Giant Slayer
© Warner Bros
Not that this is Singer and companyís fault. By and large theyíve staged a gorgeously refined epic filled with interesting characters (I think this is the best McShane has been utilized in years, while McGregor is obviously having a blast filling the shoes of the courageous, self-sacrificing knight not above a sarcastic putdown or two) and dynamic moments that kept me more often than not happily entertained. While itís somewhat apparent the director would have liked to have taken some darker turns, what he has in fact delivered is a family-friendly adaptation of the timeless tale kids and adults should both enjoy equally, and for that fact alone I find Jack the Giant Slayer to be a towering success thatís sure to grow on me the more I ponder it.
- Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ (out of 4)