Predictability aside, ‘Jack’ is fun adventure
Film slightly marred by frustrating third act
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 03:03
“Jack the Giant Slayer” — a re−imagining of the classic “Jack and the Beanstalk” tale — is Hollywood’s latest attempt to adapt a classic fairytale into film. Some adaptations turn their source material into something darker — think last year’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” or this year’s “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” — while others keep things light, as with the other recent Snow White movie, “Mirror Mirror” (2012) or “The Princess and the Frog” (2009). Instead, “Jack the Giant Slayer” opts for the middle road, maintaining a tone that lands somewhere between the seriousness of the “Lord of the Rings” series and the simultaneously medieval and self−aware fairytale humor of “Shrek” (2001).
Like the films above, “Jack the Giant Slayer” veers away from its source material, venturing into more epic territory. Here are the main plot differences: 1. The beanstalk leads to a land inhabited not by one giant, but by an entire race of giants; 2. Jack, played by Nicholas Hoult, who is most known for his role as Beast in “X−Men: First Class” (2011), decides to scale the beanstalk because he wants to save a princess, played by Eleanor Tomlinson, and 3. Jack does not go alone, but is instead accompanied by a group of knights and the king’s power−hungry adviser (Stanley Tucci) who seeks to use the giants as an army to conquer the world below.
Although the fate of the world is at stake, the tone manages to stay light through most of the film. One scene has a giant wrapping the leader of the knights, played by Ewan McGregor, into dough and placing him in an oven next to two literal pigs in dough blankets. In another, the knight leader says, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” — a not−so−subtle reference to McGregor’s role in “Star Wars.” Also, the computer−animated giants are less scary than they are funny. The giants’ humor is presented in a gross kind of way — burping, scratching their armpits and picking their noses as they please.
Equally fun to watch is the adventure−heavy portion of the movie. The climbing of the beanstalk is thrilling and it looks great — the giant plant looks realistic, and the views up into the clouds and down at the kingdom below are beautiful. The land of the giants is a complete unknown, and the anxiety the characters experience through separation and the suspense elicited while the characters explore the mysterious land of giants is where the film really shines.
Where “Jack the Giant Slayer” falters, though, is in the third act, when it abandons adventure in favor of straight action. This final part of the movie involves the giants climbing down the beanstalk and attacking the kingdom, at which point a “Lord of the Rings” Helm’s Deep−style battle erupts. To make things worse, this section of the movie leaves out all of the humor that made the first two acts so entertaining. After all is done, you are generally happy — Jack saves the day, marries the princess and becomes king — but it feels hollow, not only because the third act is bad, but also because the happy ending is ultimately too happy. Basically, all the bad guys die and all the good guys live.
As frustrating as the third act is — keeping it a simple damsel−in−distress rescue story would have been more satisfying — the actors are what ultimately keep the movie engrossing. Nicholas Hoult and relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson do fine jobs as the leads, but it’s the veterans who steal the show. Stanley Tucci is just the right combination of evil and funny; Ian McShane is perfectly cast as the somewhat oafish king; Bill Nighy is unfortunately underused, but he’s still great as the voice of the lead giant. Outshining the rest, though, is Ewan McGregor, who looks and acts ultra−cool as the lead knight, reminding us why he’s one of the biggest movie stars of the past 15 years.
So, despite predictability and the Hollywood cliches, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fun and sometimes−hilarious action−adventure flick. Besides all the things above that the film does well, what makes this film worth seeing — if not in theaters, then at least on DVD or on−demand — is that it never takes itself too seriously and it remembers what it is — just a fairytale.