Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) (PG-13)
You’ve all heard the tale...right? I’m not sure everyone is familiar with the childhood yarn, “Jack and the Beanstalk”; but it is one of the more famous fairy tales. It consists of Jack taking a cow to the market to sell. He trades the cow for magic beans because he is a free spirit or naive—perhaps both. When he returns home, elated by his superior bargaining skills, his mother is outraged and throws the beans out the window where they fall to the ground. Over the course of the night, the beans sprout into a massive beanstalk that stretches to the sky. Being an inquisitive lad (different variations of the story give various motives for the climbing of the flora), Jack scales the growth and comes to a giant’s house where the infamous: “Fee-fi-fo-fum” is heard. The big man on campus in the sky wants Jack as finger food—but the giant’s wife hides the boy. He gets treasure and returns to the sky several times and takes loot, hidden by the wife each time. Eventually, being chased by the giant, he chops down the beanstalk with an axe and everything ends happily.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is not true to the actual fairy tale, inventing its own story—while it isn't perfect, you have to give them points for trying so hard.
The movie begins with a young boy, Jack, reading the story of the giants at nighttime, his uncle (or was it his father?...I wasn't sure) walks into his room and gently scolds him for not being asleep. It doesn’t take much convincing to make the dad/uncle tell the story—just one more time.
Years ago, thinking that they were finding the staircase (or beanstalk as the case may demand) to heaven; monks made magical beans that stretched to the sky. Scaling their creations, they found a land populated with giants...halfway between heaven and earth. This all-male land of big men have a taste for human flesh...which is never a good sign. The giants lay waste to earth by using the very beanstalks that were meant to reach God. But a righteous and powerful king took a heart from a giant, melted it down, and a made a crown from it. The black magic infused in the crown, combined with one part giant heart meant that he could command the giants (sort of like the one ring from “The Lord of the Rings”). Sending the foul beasts back to their limbo, the king then died and the crown and beans were buried with him.
While this story is being told to Jack, it’s also being told to Isabelle...the princess. Nothing says ‘sweet dreams’ like the story of man-eating, blood-drinking, children-munching, land-stomping giants (naturally); so this is a common folk tale and bedtime story.
Then cue the main title and Ten years later...
Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is now a fresh-faced, blue-eyed boy of eighteen years. He is eager to prove his worth to his uncle who raised him (I guess it wasn't his father reading him the story? Maybe? This wasn't clear), but can’t seem to do anything of worth. He is sent to the market place where he runs into Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and attempts to save her from some unsightly characters.
Jack and Isabelle both want an adventure, though in different ways. Jack would like to become his own man and Isabelle would like to be out from underneath the thumb of her father, the king.
King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) is not about to let his daughter go wandering around the countryside with no bodyguards, so he forbids her to do any questing. This, of course, only makes the tensions mount higher and the inevitable running away from home occurs.
Jack, in the mean time, has procured the beans (by what means? Alas, my lips are sealed) and lost his horse and cart. Returning home with only enough beans to make a mouthful of delicious magic bean paste, Jack’s uncle is irate and knocks the beans to the ground. The uncle returns to the market to bargain with something else.
Isabelle arrives at the lonesome house right after the uncle leaves and right before Jack has set out to fetch him back. Their second meeting is filled with awkward and sweet mumblings that don’t really make any sense.
But right as they start to make a connection, the beanstalk erupts from the ground and the rest is history.
What “Jack the Giant Slayer” does that the fairy tale didn’t (it had to do something to stretch its running time) is add a layer of politics to the story. The seat of the throne is desirable and some men would like to have control of the whole world.
Their greed is never explained, but hey, it’s a movie that has giant talking, farting giants (the giant part seems redundant, doesn’t it?).
On a side note, I would have liked to see the giants treated differently...they felt like the trolls from the LOTR series. They could have been smarter and less stereotypical. I think this would have also made them more frightening.
The cast is quite impressive: Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, and Eddie Marsan round out the usual suspects; along with Bill Nighy’s iconic voice.
At first, the movie seemed like just a setup for a video game, and it was fine being just that. “Jack the Giant Slayer” has a weak beginning; but give it time, it’ll warm up. It becomes genuinely thrilling at times.
The costumes are outlandish and fun, as is the action.
It’s campy, but not too overdone.
The film steals a lot from “The Lord of the Rings” franchise including direct quotes and imagery. Nicholas Hoult, while not being anything spectacular, is likable and a good fit for Jack. He doesn’t overplay the character.
What is curious is the director choice: Bryan Singer? Maybe if the film had had someone more in tune with the fantasy world, it would have been even better....woulda, shoulda, coulda.
For what it is, the film is pretty darn entertaining...though I did hate the very ending with a deep, undying passion.
It’s mindless and even a touch forgettable; but it gave a good try.
Perhaps a different name, script, and premise and this movie could have been knockout...we’ll never know. It is interesting to see what the film makers managed to do with a fairy tale that is centuries old.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is not a polished movie...it is a film filled with preposterous and joyous action.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones