- 'JACK THE GIANT SLAYER': Nicholas Hoult stars.
You might be forgiven for assuming the best about "Jack the Giant Slayer," what with its capable cast, proven director and reliable folk tale source material. Surely no one could muck up a story that has enthralled — tens of millions? hundreds of millions? — countless children over the past couple of centuries. And with the director of "The Usual Suspects" and the first two "X-Men" movies at the helm? What, exactly, could go wrong?
The short, depressing answer to that question is, just about everything. This "Jack" is a botch on the order of being given a thousand dollars to invest in a grilled cheese sandwich and failing even to make proper toast. Aside from the effects on the beanstalk and on the giants, who are occasionally decent, "Jack" looks to be a visual homage to made-for-TV movies. Bryan Singer, a director who should know better, sets his camera seemingly wherever. The actors are roundly leaden. The score is tepid. What you have here is a bombastic adventure movie for kids that may indeed work for kids, but not without reminding adults of every cheap kids' movie they were at one time plonked in front of while adults wandered off, thankful for a quiet moment and vowing they would one day parent better.
"Jack" begins with the fairy tale, told to a farmer's boy (that'd be Jack) and a young princess separately at bed time: beanstalk (check), giants (OK), monks who melt a giant's heart into a crown used to control the giants (uh ...) and magic beans as holy relics (seriously). Jumping ahead a few years, we find that Jack (the perfectly pleasant Nicholas Hoult) has been tasked with selling a nag and cart inside the local castle. There he runs across said princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) and is shooed away by the royal guards (notably Ewan McGregor). A monk on the run gives him a baggie of beans and hops on the horse, leaving Jack to trudge back home virtually empty-handed. His irritable, reasonable uncle scatters the beans. One gets under the house and after a while sprouts violently to the heavens, as magic beans are wont to do.
Meanwhile we gather that courtly skeeze Stanley Tucci is set to marry the princess, despite her protestations to her father, the king, Ian McShane. Tucci's robbed a tomb to get the magic crown and magic beans and intends to use them to command an army of giants. But when the princess runs away, stops by Jack's house and is transported to the clouds by the sprouting stalk, his evil plans get folded into an ostensible retrieval mission.
Once Jack and the king's guards and the princess and the bad guy and the giants are all in the cloud realm, running around, getting in fights, tempting danger, killing one another, the movie finds a few moments of honest excitement. But too much else is plain baffling. Why if the legend speaks of giants do villagers flock to the bottom of the beanstalk? Why do you cast the vampiric McShane as the king and then stuff him into goofball robes and armor? Even though we're stuck in a rescue-a-princess storyline, does that mean she can't have any personality, wit or development? What motivates these giants to pillage and terrorize anyway? What marvels could this story have borne if Terry Gilliam had directed?
Alas, these all will go unanswered. From a magic bean of a bedtime story, this ungainly mass grew. Nothing to do now but chop it down and flee.