Beanstalk leads to big adventure in ‘Giant Slayer’
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:36AM
‘Jack the Giant Slayer’
Everybody knows the giants in “Jack and the Beanstalk” are horrible, foul-tempered, man-munching creatures, but I never realized how disgusting they are before seeing this smart, witty, action-intensive update of the ever-popular fairytale.
We’re talking about brutish dudes who like to root around in their noses and snack on what they find there, sniff-test their armpits and scratch indelicately. It’s a good thing that while we can see them in 3-D, we still can’t smell them.
Fair’s fair though. While the giants aren’t much when it comes to personal hygiene and social graces, they are very good at being very intimidating — and very bad news for mankind. As soon as they make their first repulsive appearance, they function as a sufficiently nasty threat to kick the suspense and action-adventure elements of “Jack the Giant Slayer” into overdrive. Counterbalanced by humor of the dry, British variety and a fair amount of fairytale romance.
Credit director Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects,” “X-Men”) for that, along with a clever, inventive script by newcomer Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote “The Usual Suspects”), plus a well-chosen cast and some very impressive CGI effects.
In broad outline, “Jack the Giant Slayer” shapes up pretty much the way you might expect. There’s a surprisingly intrepid farm boy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult, as likeable here as he is playing a teenage zombie in “Warm Bodies”), who’s a bit of a dreamer with a yearning for adventure. Jack goes to town to sell his uncle’s horse and cart, swaps them for magic beans instead and suddenly finds himself wondering whether or not to climb the giant beanstalk that has erupted up toward the heavens.
There are a couple of fresh developments, though. For one thing, when the big beanstalk gets frisky, Jack is in the company of the beautiful princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who’s freaked out because the king (Ian McShane of “Deadwood”) insists she has to marry the obnoxious Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci). And Jack has been raised with the story that giants once invaded the world of men using a beanstalk which was conjured up from magic seeds by a group of not-so-bright monks who wanted to climb up and say hi to God. The giants invaded the world and made a giant mess of it until the monks and ancient King Erik (Isabelle’s way-back ancestor), created a magic crown that sent them back up to the clouds.
Next thing you know, Eleanor has been carried up to giant land on the beanstalk and Jack has volunteered to join the rescue party led by Captain Elmont of the king’s guard (Ewan McGregor). With Roderick tagging along with nefarious plans of his own.
It’s worth noting that “Jack the Giant Slayer” might be a bit too intense for younger kids. (If they’ve only seen the Mickey Mouse version of the tale, they may not be ready for giants who bite people’s heads off as if they were chocolate Easter bunnies.) If they’re old enough not to be particularly interested in fairytales, though, it should work nicely.
This “Jack” has all the elements of a classic fairytale (including grisly violence), only more so, though it’s wrapped up in such a snazzy modern package that it doesn’t really play like one. Which means even the most jaded hipster should swallow it whole, right up to the fairytale ending, without realizing they’ve just been told a beddy-bye story.