It’s fitting that Jack the Giant Slayer opens with two parents separated by class and birthright reading their children the same bedtime story. Bryan Singer’s film, a reboot of the old tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” wants nothing more than to be a similar yarn for today’s youth, one that cuts across cultural lines and appeals to all kids’ love of damsels in distress, knights in shining armor and nasty giants who pick their noses before gobbling up Englishmen whole.
Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) stars as peasant boy Jack, a young teen living in squalor with his chiding uncle, who dreams of a better life inside the castle walls. Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) is Isabelle, a queen in waiting who’s suffocated by her future crown and enjoys sneaking out amongst the commoners and going on adventures. They’re both adorable, but alas they can never be together thanks to medieval customs that respect bloodlines above all else.
Through plot machinations I’ll leave aside, the cute as a button pair end up stranded atop a giant beanstalk with hungry giants in pursuit. Joining them are the righteous Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the vile Roderick (Stanley Tucci), and a host of bit players that are there just to get eaten or dropped off a cliff. The giants are CGI effects created using the same motion capture technology pioneered on Avatar. (For example, the main villain, a two-headed giant named General Fallon, is played by both Bill Nighy and Jim Kassir.) The effects mostly work, though they had me missing The Hobbit director Peter Jackson’s digital effects team.
As a kids movie, Jack the Giant Slayer works just fine. The first half is a bit draggy, but the flick finds its footing once the characters arrive in the land of the giants. There’s a funny scene in which one of the leads almost gets cooked, a dramatic knife fight at the edge of a waterfall, and a climactic battle, in which a gaggle of giants lay siege to a castle, that will entertain every 13-year-old boy in attendance. Adults chaperoning their children will have sat through much worse, but God help you if you’re a childless adult out on a date who wanders in looking for that Lord of the Rings magic.
There’s also something of a twist ending that’s clearly meant to set up a sequel. Without going into detail, I will say that Jack the Giant Slayer 2 might just be a movie my inner 12-year-old would really like to see.