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'Jack The Giant Slayer' Doesn't Stand The Test Of Time

Catherine Green |
March 2, 2013 | 10:53 a.m. PST


CGI giants help relegate the film to cheesy kids flick territory. (MovieWeb.com)
CGI giants help relegate the film to cheesy kids flick territory. (MovieWeb.com)
Like the relatable sting of its adolescent characters when they inevitably face failure, a coming-of-age film is most disappointing when it just misses living up to its potential — even more so when it’s enlisted the help of respectable actors, a beloved fairy tale storyline, and a presumed legion of special effects engineers. 

"Jack the Giant Slayer" manages to entertain well enough throughout its two hours. But despite clear aspirations to join a certain ilk of fantasy film classics, this medieval jaunt likely won’t stand the test of time.

The distressingly babyfaced Nicholas Hoult stars as Jack, an at first hapless hero who lives just outside the imagined Middle Ages kingdom of Cloister. Giants loom in the mythical past, a somewhat teasing threat whispered to children at bedtime by adults who turn out to be more concerned than they’re letting on. Even the King (Ian McShane) acknowledges the dreaded possibility of a return to earth by the loathsome monsters from their plateau paradise in the sky, though his daughter Isabelle, played by the lovely Eleanor Tomlinson, flits away from these fears in search of her own adventure. Jack crosses paths with the pretty princess with bumbling results, gets his hands on the storied beans, and oops, screws that up too. Fate takes it from there for anyone who grew up with some version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," leading our teenaged protagonist to confront his adulthood destiny.

This is a well-known story, but the material doesn’t feel tired necessarily. In fact, the ingredients are all here for a new addition to the fable film vault. But with a dismaying lack of wit, and special effects that relegate it to the realm of cheesy kids flicks, "Jack the Giant Slayer" is no "Princess Bride."

That’s clearly the tier of movie Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci were aiming for when they signed on to join the cast. As leader of the king’s elite guard, McGregor’s Elmont shows shades of the smirking, valliant Westley from the 1987 film (though he’s not intended to be the romantic lead), and Tucci should fill the Prince Humperdinck role as gap-toothed royal advisor Roderick, Isabelle’s husband-to-be. But a team of four writers wasted their talents by not giving either of the actors much to work with in the way of quote-worthy zingers. 

Roderick and his henchman, the funny and convincingly sinister Wicke played by Ewen Bremner ("Trainspotting"), serve as the bad guys our own size in contrast to the larger-than-life CGI giants, whose menace is tempered by kid-friendly censoring. The film is rated PG-13, but generally cuts away before blood is spilled by Roderick’s knife or mangled bodies are revealed from beneath a giant’s foot. Also absent are the usual sneaky sexual innuendos which typically prompt uncomfortable questions from younger members of the audience.

With bloodthirsty determination — “We never forget a smell” — the giants are still a touch scary, but only enough to keep the story engaging. We have to care whether Jack and Isabelle make it home safely. Throughout their journey — from Cloister, to sky-bound Giants Country, back down the beanstalk again — the characters look the parts of knights and maidens, though costume designers appear to have gotten lazy with Jack’s outfit. His dusty hoodie and pants could have been stolen from the "Warm Bodies" set, accented with a few leather panels and laces for authenticity. But the low-key getup seems to work to his advantage: He’s got to be ready for anything, appropriately attired for his multistratum adventure. 

"Jack the Giant Slayer" does a decent job renewing the tension of its titan threat through several acts without dragging the story into overtime. And there is one charming thread in director Bryan Singer’s rendition of the fairy tale: this idea of mythology through the ages, passed ad infinitum from parent to child in cozy bedtime stories. 

This is the fundamental appeal of movies like these, after all. We hope taking our kids to watch characters from our own childhood books will somehow keep them grounded. As younger generations become further tapped into technology and classic narratives are discarded as stale, it’s nice to see continued efforts to keep these fairy tales alive. 

But our kin deserve a more eloquent retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk" than "Jack the Giant Slayer" provides. Its entertainment value lasts only as long as the central lovebirds’ porcelain faces or the gaping maws of beastly giants stay on screen — both of which are regrettably too forgettable here to earn a spot among the greats.

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