adventure, Bill Nighy, Bryan Singer, Eddie Marsan, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan Bremner, Ewan McGregor, fantasy, Ian McShane, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Slayer, Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Warwick Davis
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a farm boy in the Kingdom of Albion who loses himself in adventure stories to escape his humdrum existence but when a chance encounter with a monk sees him trading his horse for some bean-like ancient relics and the kingdom’s princess shelters from a storm in his house adventure comes to him. Legend speaks of a land above populated by giants defeated in battle long ago by Eric the Great. When one of the ‘relics’ Jack receives sprouts a mighty beanstalk that lifts his house and the princess skywards, Jack volunteers to join a rescue party to save her.
That’s two in a row. Hollywood has never had the best track-record when putting fantasy on the big screen but it seems they’ve finally got the hang of doing at least a half-decent job that isn’t an embarrassingly unironic mess. Oz: The Great and Powerful was a pleasing example of visually-driven fantasy world-building and now Jack the Giant Slayer comes along to provide another adventure that’s light on complexity but big on fun.
But it gets off to a rocky start with a purposefully unfinished CGI backstory sequence that looks like an FMV from a ten-year-old PC game. Early establishing scenes struggle to get into gear with a hesitant script and uncertain character introductions that don’t bode well for what follows. But it’s a hump the film clears with the appearance of the beanstalk and the call to adventure.
Jack the Giant Slayer is an entertaining romp full of gross giants and thrilling CGI-heavy set pieces that importantly don’t bury the actors. It’s quite a cast, boasting the likes of Ewans McGregor and Bremner, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Bill Nighy and Ian McShane, all of whom are excellent. Eleanor Tomlinson is fine as the conscientious damsel-in-distress Princess Isabelle but isn’t given much to work with in a script that seems more interested in the various male characters. Hoult is great as Jack, subtly interspersing wide-eyed enthusiasm with his familiar boy-next-door charm in an unspectacular but appealing heroic lead.
This is one film that definitely builds, getting better as the set pieces rack up on top of each other. The beanstalk collapse is among the most spectacular and thrillingly original sequences in big FX films in recent years and the final act ruckus is consistently exciting. Despite this the film still lacks a little heart. The inevitable romance can’t find anything new to do and while McShane conveys some moments of quiet brilliance as the conflicted king, the story never offers anything more than the diverting adventure of its story, with neither the smarts of The Princess Bride nor the ambition of The Lord of the Rings.
Sitting comfortably above average in a screen genre that has seen more flops than triumphs, Jack the Giant Slayer is another solid historical fantasy adventure with excitement in spades.