out of Five
Running time: 114
Engaging and enjoyable fairytale adventure, enlivened by strong performances, pacey direction and some superb special effects, though the script is surprisingly po-faced and lacks humour.
What's it all about?
Directed by Bryan Singer, Jack the Giant Slayer stars Nicholas Hoult as orphaned, poverty-stricken farm boy Jack, who reluctantly trades his horse for a handful of magic beans handed to him by a panicked monk. When the beautiful princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) takes shelter at his house during a rainstorm, one of the beans accidentally gets wet, sending a towering beanstalk shooting into the sky, taking both Jack's house and Isabelle with it.
It soon transpires that the beanstalk leads to a land above the clouds, where a race of hungry giants, led by two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy) have been biding their time and plotting revenge against humankind. Desperate to save Isabelle, Jack pleads with her kindly father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) and is allowed to join the rescue team that includes noble commander Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Elmont's right-hand man Crawe (Eddie Marsan) and Isabelle's scheming fiancé Roderick (Stanley Tucci). But will they be able to rescue Isabelle before the giants use the beanstalk to invade and attack?
Hoult is both solid and engaging as Jack and he sparks likeable chemistry with Tomlinson, who's appealingly feisty as Isabelle. There's also strong, charismatic support from Ewan McGregor (clearly having a whale of a time as the heroic Elmont, to the point where he could almost be the lead), while Nighy is refreshingly unrecognisable as Fallon and Tucci is reliably slimy as Roderick. Indeed, the only performance that really lets the side down is Ewen Bremner as Roderick's sidekick Wicke, delivering a turn that's distractingly irritating and painfully unfunny.
The script is pleasingly old-fashioned, tinkering with the giant myth slightly (golden goose out, giant-controlling magic helmet in) and delivering a straightforward tale of heroism and adventure. In addition, Singer maintains a decent pace throughout and the effects (motion-capture and CGI) are excellent, particularly on the giants themselves. On top of that, Singer knows his way around a decent action sequence and the climactic battle is both impressively staged and extremely enjoyable, with a variety of different-sized objects being hurled through the air.
The main problem with the film is that there's surprisingly little humour, which is strange considering the comic calibre of its cast and the fact that co-writer Darren Lemke also had a hand in Shrek Forever After. Indeed, Singer's direction is equally po-faced at times, meaning that even scenes that were crying out to be played for laughs (a scene involving bees in particular) seem oddly flat.
Jack the Giant Slayer (3D) is a pleasingly old-fashioned fairytale adventure with a decent script, impressive special effects and superb performances, though a touch of humour wouldn't have gone amiss. Worth seeing, nonetheless.