3/7/2013 - The story of the kid named Jack and those magic beans gets a CGI-laden reworking in Jack the Giant Slayer, another one of these new-take-on-a-fairy-tale movies.
Enough of us saw 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and are watching Once Upon a Time and so we’re going to be getting these puppies until they start to run low on tights and prop swords.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a mopey young man, living on a farm with his uncle who mistreats him and thinking back to rosier days before his father died of the plague. Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is also missing a dead parent and chafes under the demands of her father, King Brahmwell (IanMcShane), who wishes she wouldn’t run off in search of adventure and wants her to instead settle down and marry his too-old adviser Roderick (Stanley Tucci).
Jack and Isabelle have a brief meeting in town — she’s there to escape the confines of the palace and he’s there to sell a horse, which he ends up trading to a monk for some allegedly magic beans. (This isn’t as dumb as it sounds.) Later, Isabelle (who is sneaking away from the palace) winds up at Jack’s farm and just as they are getting some good flirting going, one of the beans gets wet and starts to grow into a massive stalk, taking the house with it up into the sky. Isabelle and Jack are separated so when King Brahmwell arrives, Jack can explain what happened and volunteers to join the rescue party up the stalk, where legend says they’ll find a land inhabited by giants. Joining the party are Roderick, who is all shifty-eyed and up to no good, and brave knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor), who is just there to, I don’t know, give the moms in the audience something to look at.
Because Ewan McGregor is almost 42. Heavy sigh.
There is a lot going on in Jack the Giant Slayer. There’s the dead parents angle, the Roderick situation, Isabelle’s longing for adventure, Jack’s longing for her, giants, the ancient armistice between giants and people, and the fact that Ian McShane needs at least three good “thus I proclaim”-type scenes or else he’s just wasted. But like a kid receiving too many toys at Christmas, the movie can’t seem to focus on any one of these things for long. Nor does it really know how to fit it all together. There are moments of cleverness: some cute editing that shows us the similarities in the home lives of Isabelle and Jack. But then we get an extended scene of two secondary characters fighting and I found myself wondering if the movie really knew where it was going with any of its subplots.
Also, I have a bone to pick with the way this movie ends — a near impossible thing to discuss without completely giving away the story. The movie makes a choice about who is the ultimate hero that feels untrue both to the rules of the world it’s created and to the characters and tone it set up. After a less-than-perfect mix of plots, characters and CGI-heavy action, this final disappointment left me feeling like one of the few potentially fresh things about this story boiled into blandness. Add to that a confusing coda and you have a movie full of a jumble of ideas but not one clear plotline. C
Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. Directed by Bryan Singer with a screenplay by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney and a story by Lemke and David Dobkin, Jack the Giant Slayer is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.