Jack the Giant Slayer starts off as a fairly straightforward fairy tale without an ironic bone in its giant body, and then turns into a knock-off of the Battle for Helm’s Deep with oversized CGI orcs.
In a time when for some reason every classic fairy tale has to be given an ironic, contemporary twist in current blockbuster fare, it’s somewhat refreshing to see one that simply tries to tell an old tale in the most old-fashioned way possible. That is, until we get to the second half.
We all know the tale of Jack and The Magic Beans. The first act of Jack’s (Nicholas Hault) story follows a very simple kid’s fairy tale structure without a single cliché and trope left unturned.
The farm boy who one day dreams of making it big is an obvious one, but we’re also treated to a princess who’s tired of her royal life and escapes the palace in search for adventure. Her name is Isabelle, but she might as well have been named Jasmine.
Of course Jack defends the princess’ honor without knowing who she is, then thinks the bad guys are bowing down to him without realizing, gasp, a whole army is behind him. Of course Isabelle has to marry the evil Roderick (Stanley Tucci gloriously hamming it up) so she escapes and happens to bump into Jack’s cottage.
Of course Jack can’t marry the princess because he has to be royalty. Of course there will be a loophole exposed regarding this law in the finale. Have you been living under a rock for the past five hundred years?
The list of screenwriters who worked on Jack the Giant Slayer includes the inventive Christopher McQuarrie, who worked with director Bryan Singer on many occasions. Singer, by the way, presents more of the dullness and predictability of Superman Returns here than the freshness of The Usual Suspects and X-Men 1 & 2.
With these esteemed names in the credits and a bevy of strong supporting cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, the grossly underrated Mike Leigh favorite Eddie Marsan, one would think that a modern twist on this fairy would result in either an endlessly inventive romp, or at least an entertaining throwback to classic fantasy filmmaking.
What we get instead is a feeble attempt to cover all of these grounds, which results in a mildly entertaining yet instantly forgettable mini-epic. First of all, who was this made for? The first half is strictly kids fare and doesn’t even have the edge expected from contemporary animated films dealing with fairy tale environments such as Shrek and Brave. The second half is where the PG-13 rating is fully earned with a bunch of unimpressive CGI giants who look like they belong in Weta’s Lord of The Rings reject folder biting the heads off of soldiers and trampling an entire army. And you thought The Hobbit was tonally all over the place.
Jack the Giant Slayer will be a sufficient time-waster for adventurous kids and fantasy fan parents who can cover their kids’ eyes away from the violence in the second half. Otherwise, don’t bother.