Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson
You may like this if you like: The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987), Stardust (Mathew Vaughn, 2007), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)
Well, I think we all know the story but here is a quick reminder. In the kingdom of Albion lives a poor farm boy named Jack (Hoult) and he is sent to marketplace to sell their horse. However, after a chance meeting with an escaping priest, he is given some apparent ‘magic’ beans in exchange for the horse. One rainy night, by chance the kingdom’s princess (Tomlinson) comes to Jack’s house and when he accidentally drops one of the beans, a giant beanstalk suddenly grows, taking the house and the princess up with it. After being knocked out, Jack awakens the next day to see the King (Ian McShane) and his guards with him. The king sends his finest Knights (with Jack in tow) up the beanstalk to search for the princess. However, unknown to all of them, what they are about to restart is the long running war between mankind and the CGI giants that live up in the kingdom in the clouds.
After the apparent Goth moodiness of Red Riding Hood and Snow White & The Huntsman and the blood splattered daftness of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters it is the turn of Jack and the Bean Stalk to get a big screen and bigger budget update. Well, thankfully despite being directed by Bryan Singer, Jack the Giant Slayer does not attempt to bring too much substance or pretention to proceedings. It is certainly a much bigger and louder take on the tale, but tonally it is quite happy to stick to its roots (no pun intended). There are no singing harps or golden eggs, but instead we are given CGI battle scenes; it is big, it is loud and is most certainly colourful but all done in the spirit of a fairytale. Aided by Newton Thomas Sigel’s primary colour cinematography it does all feel like a $200million pantomime. I do however mean that in a good way.
With a big name supporting cast of the likes of Ewan McGregor (nice hair), Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci and Ewen Bremner all in panto season mode it is definitely the case that everyone is having a grand old time. Nicholas Hoult once again continues to impress, providing us with a both plucky and extremely likeable protagonist. The opening scenes that set the story up through dual scenes between a young Jack and Princess Isabelle with their respective parents are as cheesy as vintage cheddar, and that sets the standard. The whole thing is a riotous romp, no substance at all, but tremendous forgettable fun throughout, and it has absolutely no shame in doing that way. The humour is as broad as the beanstalk is tall, but with every one having so much fun, it is impossible for the audience not to either.
What is most troubling for me is the decision for a 12a certificate. The tone may seem a little too light for the older teens, but the action and giants too much for a younger audience. This may partly explain in part for its mediocre performance at the box office. However, this is most definitely a film the whole family can enjoy.
The giants themselves (lead by a Bill Nighy voiced two-headed Goliath) are impressively designed motion capture CGI creatures. Why it was decided they would all have Northern Irish accents is beyond me, but they are suitably scary and ugly. As the film heads towards its final third, the inevitable climactic battle scene is most certainly action packed. There may be a lot of CGI, but it does not disappoint and does feel genuinely epic.
Highly forgettable, but effortlessly watchable, Jack the Giant Slayer is an unashamedly glorious romp of a film. After recent slightly misjudged misfiring attempts at fairy tale rehashes, it is a welcome sight to see the fairy tale fun again.
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