Following in the path of “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” director Bryan Singer continues the fad of revamping old time children’s stories into full-blown adventures with “Jack the Giant Slayer,” which takes the much beloved folktale of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and transforms Jack from curious boy to strapping young man. The manner in which Singer is able to capture the attention of children without boring older teens and film critics is, simply put, wonderful.
Although the movie features some ill-advised comic book rendering in the introduction, the animation schemes are otherwise top-notch throughout. Jack’s adversaries, the Giants, are beautifully envisioned. The landscapes in this retold classic are fully capable of captivating the imagination; older audiences may be reminded of childhood stories about knights and castles, while a new world is presented to younger audiences.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” begins and ends with its leading man Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a farm hand with delusions of adventure that often revolve around the Giants. It is quickly revealed that Jack has lost most of his family, and now lives with his frugal uncle (Christopher Fairbank). Normally at this point in a partially-animated children’s film, a number of huge plot holes would leave doubt in the protagonist’s past, but the story is accurately set after the plague, which lends a little more believability to the situation. One things leads to another, and Jack is sent barreling into town to make some money for his uncle.
It is here that he meets the beautiful but predictably unattainable Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her loyal guard Elmont (Ewan McGregor). After some quick introductory plot devices, the two are separated, and it seems that our poor hero is destined to return to his life as a farmhand. However, he soon succeeds in—or rather, is conned into—selling his wares for a handful of beans from a somewhat amusing monk (Simon Lowe), and thusly the seeds are sown for the exploits that lie ahead.
After showing up—almost purely by coincidence, of course—at Jack’s home later that night, seeking shelter from the storm, Isabelle quickly becomes a typical damsel-in-distress when rainwater from a leaky roof finds its way to a bean that has fallen through the floorboards; a Giant stalk shoots up into the sky and the princess is sent all the way to the top. Jack, Elmont and his loyal guards must travel up the stalk to save Isabelle.
The film picks up the pace as Elmont becomes a great character full of witty comments, accompanied by laughable clichés that remind the audience of how “fairy tale” the story really is. The dwarf-like characters and some bald grunts that are found among the troops are noble, and they accurately depict a group of knights trying to rescue their princess.
When Jack and Elmont finally encounter the horrifying Giants, the animation is superbly executed in its depiction of the nasty, gruesome creatures, who are the stuff of childhood nightmares. The battles and twists that the audience can rarely see coming contribute to the movie as a fresh rendition of the old adventure. Jack, of course, matures from from farmhand to a knightly hero over the course of his battles. Although it becomes a bit predictable here, it’s a nice touch to a movie that isn’t exactly supposed to explore a new frontier.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is exceptional in its appeal for both young and old audiences, without vulgarity or excessive violence. I hope that “Jack” is a precursor to the fantastic films due for release this summer.
Rating: 4 stars