The old fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk is a popular one for boys and girls. It’s filled with suspension and has a relatable underdog hero for whom it is easy to root. So an update to this story is a no brainer for the film industry. Yet with “Jack the Giant Slayer,” I just wish a little bit more brains and thought had gone into this adaptation. At times, this film shows such promise, but it is muddied by sloppy special effects and an unfamiliarity with its audience.
In “Jack the Giant Slayer,” we begin with the fairytale. Just as the audience has heard the story as a bedtime tale, we see a young Jack fearfully gripping the covers as his father tells him the classic, “fee fi fo fum.” In the palace, we see a young princess, also in bed listening as her mother reads on, “ask not where the thunder comes…” The parallel storytelling showing pauper Jack and his future counterpart, Princess Isabelle, is a lovely set up. They seemingly come from different worlds, but a child and parent’s love for the other knows no class limits. The saccharine set up had such potential, but already the film douses it’s audience for a ghastly long time with poor special effects. Getting lost in the imagination of these children equals the film’s audience suffering through what looks like a bargain bin video game. This could have been a really creative outlet for the film’s animators, but it hardly looks like they tried. The 3D only made this part worse.
Once we’re finally out of this rehash of the storybook version, we move forward with the story of Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), now young adults and about to have their lives more intricately entwined than a giant beanstalks’ vines. The princess, looking for adventure before being forced into an arranged marriage with the scheming Roderick (Stanley Tucci), runs off from the palace and finds herself on Jack’s doorsteps. The two have a sweet moment together before the magic bean that Jack acquired earlier that day sprouts and whisks Isabelle up to a land of the giants. Now it’s up to Jack and some of the king’s men, including Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to save her and the kingdom from the giants above.
The cast is great and Hoult and Tomlinson have wonderful chemistry. It was a blast to see Ewan McGregor back in an action role and bringing some of the smarter levity to the film with his dry wit. The problem with this film is that while some of the dialogue is witty and aimed at an older audience, the writers also make the actors deliver some ridiculously childish lines and gag jokes. I wouldn’t have had a problem with some of the snot and kid-aimed jokes if this film wasn’t also so obviously adult with its extreme and at times shocking violence. The writing also is weak in its efforts to find an original twist and instead often just falls to lifting from other fairy tales. I often found myself relating this to Disney’s Aladdin (princess seeking adventure who falls for the riff raff hero despite being betrothed to an evil court counselor and all with magic driving the plot). And then don’t even get me started on the unnecessary and nonsensical modern ending. Do yourself a favor and walk out of the theater a few minutes early. Let it end before the dumb flash forward and you’ll be much happier with this movie.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is an ok popcorn movie, but nothing more. If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic story, then this beanstalk is sadly stale.