“Jack the Giant Slayer”
By Bob Garver
Earlier this year, I had the displeasure of reviewing “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”. The R-rated update on the fairy tale made for one of the most miserable moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had in my life. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see another action-packed take (though with a more family-friendly PG-13 rating instead of an R) on a children’s classic in “Jack the Giant Slayer”. I even had to see the film at the same obviously-neglected theater that hosted “Hansel and Gretel”. While I can’t say that the theater itself has gotten any better, I can safely say that the evening’s entertainment was much more tolerable, even enjoyable, this time around.
The film is of course based on “Jack and the Beanstalk”, but the adventure elements don’t seem out of place. Nicholas Hoult stars as Jack, a good-hearted but bumbling farmboy who trades his uncle’s horse (not cow) to a monk for magic beans (which the monk promises is just collateral for coins to be paid later, in case you’re wondering why Jack makes such an unwise trade). Local princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) stops by Jack’s house one night while running away from home in a storm. One of the beans picks that minute to grow, and does it ever grow. Jack gets thrown to the ground, but Isabelle gets carried up to the clouds and the land of the giants. The giants, led by the two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy), aren’t too happy to see a human again after a centuries-long banishment to the clouds (there’s some nonsense about the giants being ruled by whoever wears a special crown). They’re content to have Isabelle for a snack and be done with her.
Isabelle’s father the king (Ian McShane) assembles a ragtag crew for a rescue mission. Leading the group is Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the dashing captain of the guard. No doubt some viewers will see Elmont as the real hero of the movie, and really there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be two. Also along is Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Isabelle’s scheming fiancé who is only too eager to make a run at usurping the throne. Jack tags along too, and surprises everybody including himself when he acts heroically, rescues the princess, and leaves the giants snarling in the dust.
Up to this point, the film, though inoffensive, has been about as bad as it looks in the trailers. Jack and company have had some generic adventures dodging CGI giants. But then the giants figure out a way to come down to Earth and attack the kingdom. This leads to a climactic battle that far exceeded my expectations. Medieval weaponry is put to good use, proving that action scenes in such a setting do not require automatic weapons. The king himself gets in on the action, proving to be a surprisingly effectual leader. Plus we’re treated to one of the more creative villain deaths I’ve seen in a while. It’s nice that the film’s best scenes come at the end, it caused me to leave the theater with a certain bounce in my step.
I can’t decide if “Jack the Giant Slayer” is helped or hindered by the comparisons to “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”. It’s bad company for sure, but it also looks like a giant of quality next to it. I’m not trying to make it seem like the film is award-worthy, only that it isn’t the same crushing disappointment (or completely expected failure) as every other film I’ve seen this year. The good news is that we finally have the first half-decent movie of 2013. The bad news is that we had to wait this long to get it.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is playing at the Hershey Cocoaplex. Call 312-1300 for showtimes and other info. The film is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. Its running time is 114 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.