Published Feb 28, 2013Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of too many cooks in the kitchen. This lowbrow, family-friendly, revisionist amalgamation of two classic fables is over-stuffed and under-seasoned, muddling some high-quality ingredients.
The small committee of writers credited with concocting the script for past and future X-Men director Bryan Singer's stab at spandex-free fantasy manifests its approach to collaboration in the two-headed giant our handsome hero must face part way through the picture; an ambitious tactician and a drooling imbecile that share the same overgrown body.
Uncommon for an effects-driven popcorn flick, more thought was invested in the subtext of Jack the Giant Slayer than in the simple plot machinations. The impermanence of the ruling class and the pitfalls of the pursuit of greed and power are certainly more engaging topics than the bodily functions of giants. But half-baked musings on the transitory nature of authority structures isn't why anyone is interested in seeing a movie like this. Heck, not all of the writers were interested in the concepts simmering beneath the film's passable action adventure romp surface.
So, let's back up: this take on the Jack myths is a class divide romance shoved inside a fable stuffed inside a medieval war movie. Using cheap, budget-saving CGI (we're talking more rudimentary than the beginning of Hellboy II) to illustrate the story being told, we are introduced to a little boy and girl, each being read the tale of King Erik as a bedtime story.
This walloping dose of framing exposition sets all the mythical pieces in place and lets us know that these two children will inevitably grow up and experience a grand adventure together. Sure enough, the title card drops and ten years have passed.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult, injecting another piece of mediocre nostalgia with more charm than it warrants, fresh off of Warm Bodies) is a peasant dreamer with a brave streak. Isabelle (relative fresh face Eleanor Tomlinson) is a sassy young princess with a lust for disobedient escapades, much to the chagrin of her father (an underused Ian McShane, of Deadwood cult-fame).
To add some clumsy twists to the legendary yarn, Jack is given magic beans as a down payment on his uncle's horse by a monk from a secret order of protectors, who is being pursued by the king's advisor, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), a conniving jerk with designs on the crown.
During one of her clandestine evening outings, Isabelle takes shelter from the rain in Jack's house, where one of the magic beans has tumbled beneath the floorboards. Up sprouts that famous beanstalk, taking the house and the princess with it. Being a man of valour and boy of burning loins, Jack volunteers to join the king's knights on a rescue mission to the floating land of giants.
Adding to the film's many disappointments, it's not by his wits, but by sheer luck that Jack gains his title of Giant Slayer, making the whole endeavour all the more pointless. Even so, Singer's well-meaning but excruciatingly pandering and convoluted picture is made tolerable by the detailed creature effects and solid enough performances by most of the key players.
Everyone involved deserves better though, especially the audience. Jack the Giant Slayer is a not-so-magical beanstalk best left unclimbed. (Warner)