Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) and Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) heard bedtime stories as children about a great king that, using a magic crown, had defeated a race of giants who live in a realm between Earth and Heaven.  The only way the giants can come to the ground or humans go to their realm is to climb massive beanstalks that grow from enchanted beans.  Jack, being a commoner farmer, and Isabelle, being a princess next in line for her kingdom’s throne, had very different upbringings; but the stories had similar effects on both of them.  Each has a thirst for exploration and adventure.  Isabelle likes to sneak out of the castle and mingle amongst her subjects unrecognized.  One of these trips ends with several local ruffians trying to take advantage of a pretty young lady.  Jack intervenes and is rewarded with a punch in the face by one of the locals.  The toughs back down when members of the King’s elite guard arrive, led by Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and they take the princess away but not before Jack gets a look at her face.  Jack has been sent to the village to sell a horse and cart so he and his uncle can repair their leaky roof.  Jack runs into a monk (Simon Lowe) who is nervous, in a hurry, and wants to buy Jack’s horse.  He doesn’t have any money but says the Friar at his abbey will pay him.  As a show of good faith, the monk gives Jack a small pouch will several beans, telling him to guard them with his life as they are extremely important.  Jack is unaware the monk has stolen the beans from the king’s top adviser, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci).  Roderick is the future husband of Isabelle, much to her dismay, in a marriage arranged by her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane).  But Roderick has plans to overthrow Brahmwell, take over the kingdom and then move on to other lands, all with the help of the giants as he holds the magical crown that makes them follow all the orders of the one who wears it.  Isabelle sneaks out again one evening and is caught in a thunderstorm.  Seeing a light, she rides to and is at Jack’s house.  Jack, whose uncle in anger had thrown the beans in the floor and one slipped between the boards and wound up on the ground under the house, invites the princess in and recognizes her despite her common clothing.  As they chat and discover they were told the same bedtime stories, the bean under the house gets wet from rainwater and sprouts.  It bursts through the floor and ceiling of the little cottage and begins carrying it up towards the realm of the giants.  Jack falls out of the house and winds up unconscious on the ground where he is found the next day by the king and his guards.  A rescue party made up of Elmont, several of his guards, Roderick, his sneaky assistant Wicke (Ewen Bremmer) and Jack begin climbing up in an effort to find and return the princess.  Of course, Roderick’s true intention is to put his evil plan of conquest in motion.

I doubted “Jack the Giant Slayer” would be very good.  While it is rumored to have cost nearly $200-million to make, many of these special effect showcase films tend to be rather dull as the filmmakers allow the visuals the spotlight and have put the story in the shadows.  I’m happy to say I was wrong about this SFX-heavy fantasy adventure.
The initial thing I noticed about the film was its overall look.  The movie looks very complete and well thought out in the backgrounds and sets.  Nothing looks out of place in this medieval world of kings and knights and giants.  While what looks like diver’s wet suits make up part of the Elite guard’s outfits did kind of pull me out of the world a bit, overall the film does a good job of keeping everything looking like it belongs in the past.
The actors and the characters they play is largely what makes “Jack the Giant Slayer” enjoyable.  Stanley Tucci seems to be completely enjoying his role as a foppish aristocratic baddie.  Given a set of freakishly large buck teeth to turn his normally handsome features into a nightmare, Tucci relishes in hissing out his lines of contempt towards his future wife and his king.  He also talks down to anyone except the king.  His line in the trailer, “I’m talking to the giants” is more of a laugh line than I expected.  
The film also has very likable leads in Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson.  The pair has a sweet, innocent chemistry as their characters begin to have feelings for one another.  Hoult is becoming very well known for his roles in major blockbuster films.  His next projects include the Road Warrior reboot and he will reprise his role as Hank McCoy, also known as Beast, from “X-Men:  First Class” in the sequel.  His simple farm boy who yearns for a life of adventure and excitement is a classic example of being careful what you wish for as you just might get it.  Jack quickly matures from a timid young man to a brave warrior.  Perhaps it’s a bit too quickly; however, if any of us found ourselves in similar circumstances we might find a level of bravery that was previously unknown.  Eleanor Tomlinson is not very well known in the U.S. but she has appeared in the films “The Illusionist” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” as well as much more work in her native Britain.  Tomlinson is attractive without it being distracting and looks like the kind of young woman who isn’t shy about speaking her mind, making her perfect as Isabelle.  While I doubt there were many princesses back in the day that would so openly defy their king’s wishes, Isabelle manages to get away with it.  This aspect of the story also pulled me out of the fantasy a bit.  While it’s good to have a strong, independent female protagonist, she still requires saving by her knight in shining armor.  It seems to be saying to young women that they can head out on their own but make sure there’s a strong man nearby to save you when trouble crops up.  Despite some issues I have with the characters and their actions, they are for the most part likable people that I cared about over the course of the film.
Where I do have a major issue is with the giants.  They look weird.  Not just that they are giants but their faces look like they are made from tree bark.  The CGI used to make the massive creatures that appear to be about 30 feet tall almost looks like aged drawings on paper that have been wrapped around a wire frame to give them dimensionality.  While they are a major part of the story and two-thirds of the film, the giants never looked very believable to me.  Their interactions with the environment and the human characters are very good but the creatures themselves were never the least bit convincing as actually existing.  You might say they are a “giant” disappointment.  And yes, I apologize for that bad joke.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language.  The giants set fire to the tops of trees and throw them over the tops of castle walls in a major battle scene.  They also throw rocks that crash through walls and into people, throwing some of them violently against walls.  The giants will pick people up and bite their heads off or step on them but we see no gore.  We see several giants shot with large harpoon-like arrows from a giant bow.  We see four people and one giant fall to their deaths from the middle and the top of the beanstalk.  A fight between two characters ends with one being stabbed in the chest and dying.  Again, there’s no gore.  I don’t recall the language issue but it must have been a “hell” or “damn” as there’s nothing worse than that.
Actor Bill Nighy provides the voice of General Fallon, the leader of the giants.  His very familiar voice caught my ear the moment I heard it.  It was somehow pleasant to have a familiar voice to hang on to in this world of giants, kings and castles even if he was the bad guy.  Nighy, who was Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, deserved a better, more realistic looking character for which to provide the voice.  His work is largely going to waste as the film opened with an anemic $28-million.  That’s too bad because “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fun, exciting film that is great for children 10 and up.  Try to catch it in the theatres as it will lose some of its grandeur on DVD.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” gets four massively tall guitars out of five.
Two new and very different films open this week.  Vote for what you’d like me to review next.
Dead Man Down—Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star as two strangers, irresistibly drawn to each other, whose mutual desire for revenge unravels in an escalating trail of violence.
Oz the Great and Powerful—When Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot—that is until he meets three witches.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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