“Jack the Giant Slayer” is everything you would expect of a big-budget, well-cast, special-effects-laden production from an experienced, more-than-competent director.
Everything you would expect, and not much more.
I imagine you know the basic story: poor farm boy is told to sell the horse, for money to buy food. Said naive farm boy is tricked into trading the animal for what are purportedly magic beans. Upon his return home, disgusted parent throws the beans out the window, or sweeps them from the table, sending one beneath the floorboards of the cottage. Bean(s) get wet, and, behold! Up sprouts a colossal beanstalk, all the way to the clouds and beyond. Boy ascends beanstalk and giant confronts him.
Of course, in the original tale, Jack was basically a thief and a murderer. On his first trip up the beanstalk, he cons the giant's wife out of food, and steals some of the giant's gold. On the second trip, he swipes the hen who lays golden eggs. On the third, he steals the giant's most prized possession, a magical harp that plays all by itself. Jack accomplishes all three of these home invasions without being stepped-on or becoming incorporated into the increasingly angry and apparently always hungry giant's bread recipe. Upon completing his third burglary, Jack flees down the beanstalk with the enraged giant in hot pursuit.
When he reaches the ground, Jack calls for an ax and swiftly chops down the beanstalk, causing the giant to plummet to his death. Jack and his mom live happily ever-after with their newfound riches.
Moral of the story, kids? If you're going to rob someone repeatedly, just be sure you kill them when they come after you, and everything will be fine.
Come to think of it, that might have been a really fun movie. Maybe with Samuel L. Jackson as the giant, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack, directed by Quentin Tarantino! I'd pay to see that!
Instead, I paid to see this. While in town to sell the horse, Jack meets Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). She gets in a scuffle with some brutish louts, and defends her honor. Before the louts can do our hero grievous bodily harm, the king's elite guards show up, led by the noble and upright Elmont. (Ewan McGregor). Elmont and the guards swiftly return Isabelle to the castle. Jack returns home with the beans. Jack's uncle is quite annoyed, and sweeps the beans from the table. Jack recovers most of them, but one has fallen beneath the floorboards.
Later that night, Princess Isabelle seeks shelter at Jack's cottage. She has fled from her loving but rigid father (the king, played by Ian McShane) in search of adventure. She is an independent-minded young woman (naturally) and unwilling to marry the king's most trusted adviser, Roderick, (Stanley Tucci) to whom the king has promised her hand. As romance blossoms for Jack and Isabelle, so does the beanstalk beneath the floor, and the two are swept suddenly and rapidly into the sky.
Jack is unable to hold on to the slippery sprout, and falls unceremoniously but somehow uninjured back to the ground. Isabelle, still in the cabin, disappears into the clouds.
The next morning, the king, Roderick, Elmont and the elite guards show up in search of the princess. They can't miss the rather huge new agricultural feature climbing into the sky, and after a breathless Jack explains what happened, they launch a rescue mission.
Are you with me so far? Spunky farm lad. Check. Willful princess. Check. Good but backward-thinking king. Check. Noble protector of the king. Check. Evil (spoiler alert!) king's adviser and unwanted fiance of the princess. Check. Only one ingredient missing... a horde of grotesque, people-eating CG giants! But have no fear, they're on the way!
And so it goes. A harrowing ascent. A villain revealed. A princess to be rescued, a plot against the kingdom to be foiled. Fearless young hero discovers his true talent: giant killing! Everything you've witnessed in countless other fairy tales on the big screen. Substitute dragons or witches or trolls or an evil galactic empire for giants, and you've seen it all before.
Ewan McGregor, always fun to watch, is even asked to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi, both in deed and in word. At one point he is heard off-camera saying, “I have an awfully bad feeling about this.” By that point, so did I. (I think it's time to close the books on lame “Star Wars”-based gags, by the way. I can get more of those than I want just by watching “Revolution” on TV.)
The production values are impressive. If you admire well-executed CG creature effects and virtual sets, as I do, these are first-rate. The cast is talented, game and engaging. The direction is competent. This is not Bryan Singer's (“The Usual Suspects,” “X-Men,” “Superman Returns”) first rodeo.
But like most rodeos, it's basically all cowboys, clowns and animals. If you can't get enough of that, or you are a boy between the ages of say, eight and 13, you may really like this movie. (If you suspect your younger child might have a problem with people-eating giants, I would suggest you avoid this.)
For most of us, however, I'm pretty sure “Jack the Giant Slayer,” like so many films of this ilk, is an answer to a question that no one asked.