“Jack the Giant Killer” is part of a recent spate of fairy tales brought to the big screen, following “Beastly”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”. Despite having a bigger budget than all of those movies (reportedly close to $200 million), the new, digitally enhanced “Jack” fails to conjure up much magic. The hero, the giants and the princess who's in need of rescuing are all present and accounted for, but the movie fails to bring them to life in any satisfying way, thanks to a lackluster script and a director who has no business making fantasy films in the first place.
As legend has it, the Kingdom of Cloister enjoys an uneasy peace. The people are safe from a realm in the sky where evil giants dwell, if only because these are medieval times, when airplanes and parachutes haven't been invented yet. A farm boy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is smitten with the king's daughter, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Just when it looks like Jack might get lucky with the princess, the magic beans he's acquired in town get wet, and a giant beanstalk carries Isabelle and Jack's house up into the sky. Joined by the king's knights, including the valiant Elmont (Ewan McGregor), as well as Isabelle's scheming husband-to-be, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Jack climbs the beanstalk to rescue the fair princess.
Some of these early scenes are enlivened by Tucci's amusing performance as the villainous Roderick (he's the only actor who's having any fun), and the nighttime sequence where the beanstalk grows in the middle of a rainstorm is the kind of arresting stuff on which solid fantasy films are built. But the movie is marred by a complete lack of emotional investment in the story. The dashing Hoult is game as always, but he showed more heart when he played a zombie named R in the recent comedy “Warm Bodies”. What Jack really needs is a sidekick; Frodo had Sam in “The Lord of the Rings”, Inigo Montoya had the friendly giant Fezzik in “The Princess Bride”, so where is Jack's partner in crime? A bland-as-could-be McGregor doesn't count.
With no sidekick for Jack, the movie relies on a two-headed giant named General Fallon for much of its comic relief and back-and-forth dialogue. As Peter Jackson proved with three booger-eating, butt-scratching trolls in “The Hobbit”, a little of this goes a long way. We spend an inordinate amount of time with General Fallon, and instead of making the movie more entertaining, his scenes only succeed in making it more gross.
I honestly don't understand why Bryan Singer (“X-Men”, “Superman Returns”) keeps getting hired to direct fantasy films. He does his strongest work on a small scale, with dark character studies and suspenseful situations (“The Usual Suspects”, “Apt Pupil”, “Valkyrie”). But he's no stylist. “Jack the Giant Slayer” pales in comparison to “The Hobbit” and “Oz the Great and Powerful”. The directors of those movies, Jackson and Sam Raimi, have proved extraordinarily adept at image making over the years, and their roots in horror movies shine through in their more family friendly fantasy films, bringing sharp edges to what might otherwise be fluffy fairy tales. Singer just isn't in the same league.
Page 2 of 2 - Singer has called “Jack the Giant Slayer” the bigger, angrier step-brother to “The Princess Bride”, a comparison I take exception to. Both movies are framed as bedtime stories told to children. Unlike “The Princess Bride”, the bedtime story in “Jack the Giant Slayer” put me to sleep.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is now playing in area theaters.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He can't wait for season three of HBO's first-rate fantasy series, “Game of Thrones”. He lives in Wichita.