Bryan Singer’s Jack The Giant Killer …oops, I mean Slayer gets to exceed otherwise modest expectations by modest dollops of black humour. Given how both big and small screens have unearthed a gold-mine of public-domain fairy-tale properties to refashion, if not de-construct, for modern audiences, it is not surprising that the fairy-tale “Jack & The Beanstalk” was ripe for the picking.
The tale itself is divided into two threads – the titular Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a child and grandchild of farmers and Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the restless daughter of King Brahmwell of Cloister, are being read the exact same tale by their parents – that of a boy who encounters, and overcomes, a kingdom of giants.
Fast-forward, Jack unwittingly trades in a good pack horse for a bagful of beans – and gets a sound bollocking from his gramps. While contemplating his momentary act of stupidity, he welcomes a stranger seeking shelter from the rain. Said stranger turns out to be Isabelle, on the lam not just from King-pops’ watchful eye but also an arranged marriage to some titled coot twice her age.
Before you know it, BOOM! there goes the beanstalk and Jack’s waterlogged guest get her high-rise vista….way high. There she discovers that the giants from the storybooks are yay real!!!
Jack finds himself a crucial player in Brahmwell’s rescue mission, where he is paired with the earnest Captain-of-the-Guard Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the princess’ would-be groom, the ambitious Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and his assistant (Ewen Bremmer, reuniting with his Trainspotting co-star)
A MacGuffin figures in the plot, where a crown becomes the centre of a power struggle between Lord Roderick and the King. Of course, being a fairy tale, a happy ending is warranted, with a couple of epilogs seeing the farm-boy Jack settle with the adventurous Isabelle and the crown (spoiler alert!!!)winding up among the British Crown Jewels(end of spoiler alert)
The film is rather well-paced, with much of the black humour taking place in the giants’ sky demesne. The familiar quatrain from the original story is alluded to in the names of the four giant generals – Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum; later within the story, Elmont and a couple of pigs nearly wind up baked into rolls by the giants’ cook. The perceived violence may be off-putting to family viewing crowds, but credit should be given to Singer (Superman Returns, the original X-Men trilogy) for resisting the temptation to show gratuitous gore or flying body parts.
One major false note might be the CGI rendering of the giants – particularly evident when their back-story is narrated, where they appear to have wandered off from some bad PS3 game. Meanwhile, there are some discrepancies to be noted – how come the giants are able to notice the bagful of “magic” beans Jack has with him, but cannot make out Jack’s figure hiding in the lake (which becomes naught but a puddle, at least from the gigantes‘ POV)