The Reel: ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’: visually stunning, but mediocre plot


Ben Conniff

In the latest of Hollywood’s mediocre folk tale re-imaginings, Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” attempts to take “Jack and the Beanstalk” to (pardon the pun) new heights. The addition of some character development, a forbidden love interest, colorful supporting characters and the re-igniting of an ancient war between giants and men provide the grounds for which Singer (“The Usual Suspects”, “X-Men”) asks us to “forget everything we know about the fairy tale.”

That’s all well and good, and “Jack the Giant Slayer” is probably the best of the edgy folk tales Hollywood keeps shoveling into theaters, but that isn’t really saying much. Enthusiastic acting performances and some edge-of-your-seat action manage to perch “Jack” above the likes of his recent cinematic contemporaries, but that doesn’t prove to be enough to save the film from inconsistencies in tone, as well as special effects that are literally larger-than-life.

As director, Singer wrings fine performances from everyone in his cast. Nicholas Hoult (“Warm Bodies”) is spot-on as the titular hero who, most impressively, makes us believe and even root for him as a “giant slayer.” Eleanor Tomlinson (“Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging”) is fun as the beautiful Princess Isabelle. She never comes off as whiny or helpless in the face of danger and even helps turn our hero into the brave, upstanding young man that he is. Without her, Jack would be a weaker character. Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge”) increasingly earned my trust as the royal knight Elmont, just as Jack increasingly earned his. Throw in a dastardly turn from Stanley Tucci as the evil Lord Roderick, and you’ve got quite a colorful cast. I was also pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the action scenes. The violent growth of the beanstalk, a daring escape from the giants’ galley and an epic climax kept me on the edge of my seat.

Having said this, I find fault with the way “Jack” carries itself in terms of tone. It seemed at times like the film might be taking a “Princess Bride” approach as a parody of its source material. Other moments had me thinking along the lines of a “Lord of the Rings”-type adventure. Rather than leaning one way or the other, Singer tries to split the gap and doesn’t quite make it. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cling to my armrests the entire time, so the end product left an awkward taste in my mouth.

In addition to the miscues in tone, I can’t talk about “Jack the Giant Slayer” without mentioning its larger-than-life special effects. The locations are awe-inspiring, but the giants come off appearing cartoonish with physical features that look like they were inspired by burnt pizza crust. With today’s advances in 3-D effects technology, I would’ve rather seen more vivid, human-looking giants than these crispy, caricaturistic monstrosities.

On the whole, Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” climbs to new heights with lively acting performances and surprising, action-packed intensity, but ultimately fee-fi-fo-fumbles with tonal inconsistencies and cheesy special effects. The payoff just feels middle-of-the-stalk.