Whenever I see legitimately talented people involved with a movie like “Jack the Giant Slayer,” I always wonder if there is any motivation involved other than money.
Now don’t get me wrong, beloved character actors gotta eat and I support their snagging a big payday as often as possible.
I just wonder if they are thinking, “I am going to rock this ‘ Jack and the Beanstalk’ movie so hard…” or if they just smartly and professionally wake up, get to work, and know this is going to pay for the next five independent films they are going to make.
Perhaps by bringing all this up at the beginning, I am giving the wrong impression that “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a bad movie because it’s not. In fact, it is the best possible “Jack and the Beanstalk” movie you could hope to see, but then that’s a bit of a loaded compliment, isn’t it? This is about as well-trod as creative territory gets.
I certainly don’t question the motivation of our young leads, for whom headlining a blockbuster of any sort is a great career move.
Jack is played by Nicholas Hoult, who has already had a decent 2013 as the star of the modest hit “Warm Bodies.” He is tasked with rescuing the spunky princess Isabelle (played with admirable vigor by Eleanor Tomlinson), who has unfortunately rocketed up the beanstalk to the land of nasty, bloodthirsty, computer-generated giants.
Grief-stricken King Brahmwell, as played by Ian McShane (!), sends a royal entourage to aid Jack in his quest. The beanstalk-scaling party includes, amongst others, head of the palace guard Elmont, as played by Ewan McGregor (!!), and the treacherous advisor Roderick, as played by Stanley Tucci (!!!), who just so happens to possess a magic crown that controls the giants.
The stakes are actually pretty high in this movie because these grotesque giants leave a large body count in their wake, and their leader, a two-headed monstrosity named General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy), pops guardsmen in his mouth like they are armored rasinets.
Producer/director Bryan Singer is a very solid storyteller who has occasional flashes of brilliance. Plus, he can pretty much print his own money after helming the first two “X-Men” movies.
He actually even cared enough to bring in his old buddy from “The Usual Suspects,” Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie, to take a pass at the overworked script.
Everyone involved seems to really be trying, from the likable cast to the behind-the-scenes crew. The result is a movie that is enjoyable, has some exciting moments, and some decent special effects. Yet the whole thing is ultimately forgettable.
If you take away the glossy Hollywood veneer, the whole thing has a very Friday-night-on-the-SyFy-Channel feel to it. In fact, if the giants had stormed the castle alongside a dinocroc or a sharktopus, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised.
The real problem is that fairytales make lousy big-budget extravaganzas. Hollywood’s recent fairy tale obsession began with the outrageous success of “Alice in Wonderland” (which isn’t really a fairytale).
With the added appeal of the stories existing in the public domain (meaning the studios didn’t have to pay for the rights), we have been subjected to a parade of fairy tale adaptations that include “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White” (twice!), “Hansel and Gretel” and now “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
With the best results being the glorious mediocrity achieved by “Jack the Giant Slayer,” we’ll just have to hope that this fairy tale fascination has run its course and Hollywood can go back to coming up with their own ideas for crummy movies.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images, and brief language.