Towering beanstalks? Rampaging giants? Nicholas Hoult staring slack-jawed at the sky? We know you've probably got a ton of burning questions about Bryan Singer's fairy-tale inspired blockbuster, Jack the Giant Slayer and we're here with the answers.
If I'm remembering things correctly, there are two classic fairy tales involving giants and a kid named Jack: one is Jack and the Beanstalk, the other is Jack the Giant Killer. The trailers for this movie does feature a beanstalk as in the former, but the title name checks the latter, just with Slayer substituted for Killer for some reason. So which tale is the movie based on? Or have I been wrong all along and Beanstalk and Killer are the same story?
No, you're not wrong -- there are indeed two separate Jack-related stories involving giants and they ain't sequels, either. Jack and the Beanstalk sends its poverty-stricken hero skittering up a skyscraping plant where he infiltrates a giant's domicile and proceeds to steal all sorts of lavish items that makes him a wealthy man back on the ground. (See kids? Stealing is fun and profitable!) Jack the Giant Killer, on the other hand, is about an impish scamp with a knack for finding inventive ways of dispatching the various giants who roam the English countryside during the reign of King Arthur. (See kids? Killing people bigger than you is fun and it gives you a bad-ass nickname!) The quintet of writers behind Jack the Giant Slayer (Darren Lemke and David Dobkin are cited with penning the story, while Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney get the coveted screenplay credit) apparently couldn't pick just one of these tales and since they're both in the public domain, they decided to double their pleasure by just fusing them together. So the movie begins with a Jack and the Beanstalk set-up, but moves more into Killer territory once Jack (played by Nicholas Hoult a.k.a. the dude Jennifer Lawrence just kicked to the curb) ascends the giant weed growing in his backyard.
So the magic beans are in there?
For sure. Also the whole swapping-the-horse-for the beans thing. What's been added here, if you can believe it, is bean backstory. See, hundreds of years before the film begins, Jack's hometown (which is London by the way, although it's called "Cloister" during the course of the movie to fool you into thinking it's taking place in some kind of fantasy, Westeros-y realm) suffered a serious giant infestation until they were driven away by a brave king, who fashioned a crown out of a material that essentially functions as giant Kryptonite to keep them away. Meanwhile, the beans that sprouted the stalks that brought down the towering menaces were entrusted to an order of monks, the only ones who still remember that a story that has become legend is actually one-hundred percent true.
An order of monks, did you say? Hoo boy.
Oh just wait -- it gets more convoluted. Anyway, the current monarch of Cloister is King Brahmwell, but he hasn't been too interested in the affairs of state since his wife dead, instead focusing his attention on controlling their rebellious daughter, Isabelle (generic British starlet Eleanor Tomlinson, who clearly only got the role because better actresses like Felicity Jones and Rachel Hurd-Wood wisely turned it down). In the absence of real royal leadership, the conniving chief of staff Roderick (Stanley Tucci, trying and failing to channel Chris Sarandon's Prince Humperdinck) is consolidating his grip on power and stumbles upon both the magic giant-repelling crown and a stray sack of magic beans in the process. A nameless monk manages to spirit the beans away and trades them for Jack's horse, with the understanding that he's to take them directly to the abbey in order to receive actual cash for what appear to be worthless legumes. Forethought-challenged lad that he is, Jack instead takes them back to his uncle's house and almost immediately drops one of them while enduring yet another lecture on why he's worthless and should have just been left to fend for himself after his father died. Later that night, an escaping Isabelle happens to wander into the cabin seeking shelter from a rainstorm... a rainstorm that, of course, waters the ground where the errant seed lies and, presto!, instant beanstalk. The shack -- Isabelle and all -- is rocketed up into the heavens while Jack plunges to Earth, where he's found the next morning by all the king's horses and all the king's men and sent up the beanstalk to the realm of the giants as part of a rescue mission.
So Jack gets to play rescuer here, huh? I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he's not a thief or a merry giant-killing psycho. This is a kids' movie after all, right?
That's certainly the way it is being advertised, but weirdly, it's also been slapped with a PG-13 rating due to, and I quote, "intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language." I don't recall the brief language the ratings board is talking about, unless one of the giants swore in Giantese or something. But there is an awful lot of "fantasy action violence," most of which is dished out by Ewan McGregor's Elmont, the King's most trustworthy soldier and the movie's version of Han Solo. The CGI giants themselves happily chomp down on more than a few members of the human cast and while no blood spills from their mouths, there are several loud crunches on the soundtrack. And then Jack shows off a violent streak as well, riding a plus-sized sword into the neck of one giant and conspiring to make another one plunge to his death thanks to the old "hornet's nest in an armored helmet trick." He doesn't seem particularly shocked or surprised at his giant-killing aptitude, either, which is a little surprising. Then again, Luke Skywalker killed gazillions of people by blowing up the Death Star and never batted an eye, so he's not the only youthful hero who never feels bad about leaving behind a massive body count.
That's the second Star Wars reference you've made. Are you implying that Bryan Singer is "auditioning" for the job of directing one of those impending Star Wars sequels/spin-offs?
Actually, I really think that he should campaign to take over the reins of the Star Trek movie franchise now that J.J. Abrams has moved on. Unlike J.J., Singer is a legitimate Trekkie. But yes, he does seem to be indulging his inner Lucas throughout Jack; Ewan, for example, pretty much confirms he's playing Han when Elmont utters a variation on, "I have a bad feeling about this." And later on, Jack grabs a vine, pulls Princess Isabelle close and leaps out into the void to make a daring escape. (Isabelle doesn't give Jack a kiss "for luck" first, naturally; c'mon, she's not super-slutty like that Leia chick.) And then there's the overall tone, which strains to replicate the light-hearted, but still mythic aura that suffused the original Star Wars. It's a noble goal, but Singer falls well short of achieving it, largely because his movie is too top-heavy and clunky compared to the elegant simplicity of Star Wars. Where Lucas manufactured an entire galaxy on a small budget and limited resources, Singer throws expensive-looking set piece after expensive-looking set piece at the screen and none of it sticks. It doesn't help that he lacks the flair for grand spectacle that somebody like, say, Peter Jackson possesses. Whenever he tries to go big and epic, we end up with something like Superman Returns, which is stilted instead of stirring. He does better when the action is character-centric: think Nightcrawler's White House attack in X2 or the "Let's kill Hitler" sequence from Valkyrie. The last half-hour of Jack is given over to a giant-sized, effects-laden assault on Cloister, but it's spectacularly uninvolving because neither the staging nor the characterizations possess a modicum of imagination.
Time for Singer to reunite The Usual Suspects you're saying, huh?
Yeah, that wouldn't be a bad idea. I mean, it would, because the last thing we need is for present-day Kevin Spacey to crap all over our fond memories of Keyser Söze. But going back to something smaller-scale might really benefit him. Actually, the fact that he's back aboard the X-Men franchise is also a positive development -- even though it's not exactly "smaller-scale -- given that he seemed to have a personal stake in those characters and that universe that's decidedly absent here. From the performances, to the direction to the special effects (including the generic design of the giants), Jack the Giant Slayer is a movie that feels like it was made completely on auto-pilot, which robs it of the most essential ingredient of any fairy tale: magic.
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