In the continuing trend of fairytale to film adaptations comes the Bryan Singer directed Jack the Giant Slayer. In this case it’s a retelling of the English folk tale of Jack and the Giant Beanstalk, but with the location moved to a pseudo-Arthurian fantasy land. Young farmhand Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is sent to the town of Cloister by his uncle to sell an old horse and cart, but is distracted by a commotion in an entertainment tent that leads to him inadvertently saving the Princess of the realm Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson).
Upon leaving, he realises that his cart has been stolen at which point he runs into a mysterious monk, who trades him some beans for his horse on the promise that if he returns them to the monastery he will be rewarded. The following day, the Princess visits him during a stormy night, but one of the beans gets wet and sprouts a huge beanstalk that carries the Princess and Jack’s uncle’s house up to a magical land between Heaven and Earth where a race of Giants led by General Fallon (Bill Nighy) dwell. King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) sends Jack and his personal guards Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Crawe (Eddie Marsan) to rescue her, along with the Princess’ betrothed Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who has plans of his own.
We are initially introduced to the history of the land as a myth told through the medium of children’s story and some special effects that would be embarrassing in a computer game five years ago and have absolutely no place in a big budget blockbuster like this. The setup is obvious and lacking in a great deal of imagination, but this is counteracted by the excellent casting. All the leads perform admirably against the stilted dialogue and nonsensical action scenes. Ewan McGregor steals plenty of laughs as the slightly pompous head of the King’s guard, but there is an unevenness to his character that pitches him as a buffoon and a hero.
Nicholas Hoult continues his march toward superstardom by nailing his second leading role of the year. While not a patch on Warm Bodies, his turn in Jack and the Giant Slayer is warm and relatable without being too over-the-top in terms of heroic fighting and barring a ridiculous vine-swinging scene that should have resulted in instant vaporisation his role of underdog is played perfectly.
Sadly no amount of acting quality can save Jack and the Giant Slayer from being anything other than mediocre action adventure. At first it’s squarely aimed at a very young audience before the action starts and characters start getting eaten and Giants start exploding. Like the narrative structure, the film feels at odds with itself and can’t decide upon children’s fantasy and the more adult Lord of the Rings series and ultimately satisfies neither completely.
The CGI is spectacular in parts and more than adds depth to the normal computer-generated worlds seen in films, but this isn’t enough to separate it from any other fantasy film and it’s certainly weaker than its flawed rival Oz the Great and Powerful. But the acting is good and there’s just enough throwaway fun to make this a watchable is not memorable viewing experience.