I was less than thrilled to hand over $14.50 to see Jack the Giant Slayer in 3D this weekend, and even less thrilled that I had to watch about ten minutes of 3D ads in addition to paying for the privilege of watching the movie in useless 3D, but the only other movie coming out this weekend was 21 and Over. There were so many ads I forgot what I was there to see: a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale.
A farm boy discovers the legend of giants is true when his friend the princess is accidentally stranded in their land by a rogue beanstalk.
I like fairy tale retellings (I watch Once Upon a Time regularly) and I had some hopes for this movie because Ewan McGregor (who is awesome) and Bryan Singer (who directed X-Men) were both involved, even though the trailer was lackluster. And while it was better than I expected, it just didn’t hook me.
It started off well, with an actioney score and a neat cross-cutted scene of young Jack (Michael Self) with his dad and young Princess Isabelle (Sydney Rawson) with her mom listening to the same legend of monks who made magic beanstalks to get closer to God and found murderous giants instead. But fast forward ten years and Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is wearing a hoodie. That’s when I knew this movie and I were going to have a problem.
No doubt he bought it at Ye Olde Hott Topick
Jack rescues Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) from some louts at a play and then continues this pattern for the rest of the movie, which is disappointing. I thought we were beyond the ‘women as McGuffins that need to be rescued and then married’ paradigm. They do set Isabelle up as a strong character by having her mother encourage her to get to know her kingdom and having Isabelle defy her father’s efforts to coddle her by sneaking out all the time, but it comes to nothing. For her, anyway. For Jack it’s his chance to be a hero.
Have I thanked you for your uselessness, my lady?
Jack takes Isabelle in when she runs away and gets lost (‘cause everyone knows girls can’t read maps). Then volunteers to go with her guards Elmont and Crawe (Ewan McGregor and Eddie Marsan) and slimy fiancée Roderick (Stanley Tucci) to rescue her after a bean he was given by some monks accidentally grows into a beanstalk that transports his house up into giantland.
He said not to get it wet, doofus. Didn’t you watch Gremlins?
Despite the fact that everyone in their kingdom believes the whole ‘giants and magic beans’ thing is just a story, neither the king (Ian McShane) nor anyone else seems at all surprised to see a massive plant where Jack’s house used to be. In fact, the whole rescue mission seems rather perfunctory, like Isabelle needs rescuing from strange lands in the sky every other day.
KING: Isabelle is missing again. Off you go up the magic plant, Elmont.
ELMONT: Ho hum. Another day, another dollar.
As they climb up the beanstalk, Roderick and his lackey (Ewen Bremner) knock the extras in the party off right left and center, both so that Jack will be more useful to the plot and so that there are fewer people left to stop Roderick in his mission to enslave all the giants and use them as his personal army to take over the kingdom.
Don’t forget to save the heads, lackey, so we can decorate my throne room.
If you’re getting ready to yell at me for giving away a spoiler, calm your nerves. It’s given away in the beginning that Roderick is evil and that it’s possible to enslave the giants. When it happens it’s not a surprise. However, there are plenty more plot reversals, so by stopping here I’m not really giving anything away. Despite my annoyance with other aspects of the movie, it did at least have enough going on that it wasn’t always obvious which way things were going to go.
JACK: Oh no! Run away!
ME: Who the hell is cutting the grass in these huge fields?
Anyway, when they get to the top of the beanstalk they find giants, but not giant plants or giant animals. All that stuff is the same size. Only the people are huge for some reason. The giants are the same giants from the old legend and because of what happened before, they think humans only good as snacks. The giants are green and sniffly, but they’re undeniably people. Their leader, General Fallon, even looks like Bill Nighy.
Don’t ask me why he has a second head on his shoulder and a third on his chestplate.
I guess he just likes heads.
Which is why it’s a little disturbing (not that the movie thinks it’s disturbing) when Jack and his pals start bumping off giants and laughing about it like they just pulled the world’s best college prank.
Ha ha! He totally just died! That was awesome!
It is, of course, Jack who comes out on top in all of these fights even though he’s a skinny farm boy weakling and Ewan McGregors’s character is supposed to be the King’s best warrior. For the Captain of the Guard, he kind of sucks at fighting, though his competency level goes up the further Jack is away from him.
Nonsense. Being turned into a pastry is all part of my plan.
Nevertheless, Ewan looked like he was having fun. He got to say a few funny lines and dress in some goofy armor. There’s also a good bit at the end which makes Jack the Giant Slayer seem more intelligent than it really is, but other than that’s a dumb fun movie. Lots of people forgetting to move out of the way when cutting down giant beanstalks and giants attacking palaces full of tiny scrambling people.
Bet you’re sorry you made all the palace ceilings so high now, aren’t you?
So if you’re looking to be entertained for a while, Jack the Giant Slayer is reasonably reliable in that regard. I wasn’t bored at any point. Just don’t go to it looking for anything meaningful or for any new and interesting twists to be added to the Jack and the Beanstalk tale or you’ll be disappointed.