Nicholas Hoult stars as Jack, a young lad who lives in a kingdom with a troubled ruler (played by Ian McShane). A shift in royal power takes place when a devious politician (Stanley Tucci) uses a supernatural crown to obtain power. But Jack’s random encounter with a priest on the run results in his receiving a handful of magic beans, which create a beanstalk that stretches far into the sky and reveal a land overrun with giants.
As directed by Bryan Singer, who made the first two X-Men movies, Superman Returns and The Usual Suspects, the film is every bit as spectacular as you’d expect. It was originally scheduled to open last summer and no wonder, as it’s the kind of wall-to-wall cinematic spectacle you’d find in June. The special effects here are so good and the worlds they shape seem so real that I wanted to like the movie more than I did. While the visuals are often spellbinding, the human cast barely registers. Same for the plot.
When the cast is seen climbing those thick green vines that stretch for miles into the sky, it really does look like they’re in the midst of the clouds. Likewise, when they arrive at a land in the sky, with a massive castle for giants and a cliff that threatens to plunge everyone over, I was amazed at how vivid everything seemed. The giants themselves are quite disgusting and their close-ups display some impressively realistic detail.
From the first frame on, we’re bombarded with flashy visual effects that entertain but are in service of an over-plotted screenplay with vaguely fashioned characters. Hoult is the star but once the giants show up, he seems to fade into the background while busy f/x take over. His absentee turn isn’t his fault, as the camera loves him and he’s a natural born movie star, but his recent turn as a zombie turned freedom fighter in Warm Bodies is a better showcase of his versatility.
The same goes for McShane, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci: like John Malkovich in Eragon or Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons, they’re trying to give credibility to silly roles in a lavish fantasy that doesn’t deserve their talents. As an audience, we register their appearances but aren’t buying their dialogue about a crown made of a melted dragon heart.
Like similar, though far better 1980s fantasies like Willow and Dragonslayer, the film is violent, though the gore is kept just out of camera view to make this a good pick for kids eight years and older. Eleanor Tomlinson is a perfect, attractive match for Hoult, Bill Nighy gives a CGI’d performance as the head giant and, as Nighy’s other head, is none other than John Kassir, the voice of the Crypt Keeper on HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. Even Warwick Davis, the star of Willow, turns up in a cameo appearance, but you wish all these cool actors were in a better movie.
Singer isn’t capable of making a bad film and his underrated thrillers Apt Pupil and Valkyrie demonstrate his ability to coax great work from actors as well as his production team. Yet, even at two hours, this feels overextended, complete with a flat final scene that intends to jump start a sequel but only squashes the genuine sweetness of the scene that came before it.
With its kid friendly appeal, awesome sights and a few good set-pieces, it’s better than my two-star rating would indicate, but just barely. It could have been a classic but falls short when the focus isn’t on the effects. This is what Pirates of the Caribbean would have been like without Johnny Depp.
Jack The Giant Slayer
Rated PG-13 / 114 Min.