Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer attempts to combine elements of the familiar Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer fairy tales and, through the magic of 3D technology, tell a classic story for young and old. The end result works for only part of that equation—a very specific 10- to 12-year-old part.
The film begins as a young boy and girl are each told the same bedtime story about Eric, the King of Cloister, who defeated an army of man-eating giants and saved his people. Years later, the boy has grown up to be Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a strapping farm lad sent to town by his uncle to sell his horse. Jack winds up meeting Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), defending her honor, and of course selling his horse for a handful of magic beans. The princess, whose hand in marriage has been promised to Roderick (Stanley Tucci), then happens upon the tiny hut where Jack lives after a rainy night ride following an argument with her father the king (Ian McShane). One chaste flirtation leads to another, and one of those beans manages to sprout into the famous supersized stalk, whisking the hut and Princess Isabelle past the clouds up to the land of the giants.
This is a great development for the giants, who resent mankind over their imprisonment way up high and yet miss having tasty people-snacks to round out their diet. To rescue the princess, Jack joins Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the head of the royal guard, and Roderick in leading a band of knights up the beanstalk. But Roderick has some deceitful tricks up his sleeve, and the giants, led by the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy and John Kassir), are more than ready to resume their centuries-old grudge match.
While I didn’t conduct a poll afterward with any of the kids that were shoe-horned into the press screening I attended, I’m assuming this would be all kinds of awesome for them. The good news for the parents who get stuck watching it too is that there’s no need to shield the eyes of the little ones from explicit violence: giants only eat people off screen and no one—not even giants—bleeds in storyland. And the romance is so doe-eyed that it makes The Princess Bride look like soft-core Cinemax fare. Those of us who don’t have kids also learn a key lesson: the best way to hold their attention is to have the giants fart, pick their noses, etc. Because, c’mon, how cool is that? Oh, to be 12 again...
Jack the Giant Slayer takes a straightforward approach to storybook material that could be much worse and could have been done with much less integrity. The performances are solid throughout, especially those by Hoult, McGregor, and Tucci. However, with a few well-placed nods and winks thrown to the grown-ups, the movie could have had the potential to be more than cinematic babysitting material.