Hollywood keeps churning out modernist revisions of classic fairy tales, some better than others, while pundits declare the form dead in the water based on the lack of success of, say, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Me, I’m still a sucker for a fairy tale, traditional or redux, big screen or small, so I was glad of the midwinter diversion of seeing Jack the Giant Slayer, especially having seen the previews for longer than it took to gestate any of my brood.
Written by no fewer than four screenwriters—generally a surefire kiss of death—Jack the Giant Slayer is to a large extent an enjoyable romp into the familiar tale of the silly boy who sells the family cow for some magic beans, then gets more than even he bargained for when said beans become an enormous ladder to the environs of one very mean, very hungry, and very greedy giant. In this instance, Jack (Nicholas Hoult, trading in his Warm Bodieszombie hoodie for something only slightly less modern) enters into the ill-advised bargain only after we’ve established that, as a lad, he was nourished on stories of derring-do and fairy princesses. In a cute twist, we see these flashbacks intertwined with those of a little princess being read the same story by the queen. Fast forward: Isabella (Eleanor Tomlinson), the spunky princess who is about to marry the repulsive Roderick (Stanley Tucci, enjoying himself immensely), seeks shelter in Jack’s uncle’s farmhouse, where the beans come into contact with water. . . . Well, you can imagine what happens.
Suffice it to say, Eleanor gets stuck in the Giant’s netherworld, and Jack and the princess’s loyal bodyguard Elmont (Ewan McGregor) are sent back up the beanstalk to fetch her. Along the way, they encounter all manner of danger and skullduggery, and while the ending is a foregone conclusion, that isn’t to say the movie doesn’t come with some clever twists, appealing visual special effects, and enough humor to make it a decent bit of entertainment. McGregor, in particular, seems to be having a really fun time slashing giant ogres and making equally sharp quips. The movie’s bad guys—the legion of ugly, uncouth giants—are rather dull once you get right down to it. And the legion of writers prove incapable of intertwining the scenes of what’s happening back here on Earth with what’s going on in above the clouds, to the point that the shifts in action are jarring. Nevertheless, this is one fairy-tale remake you’ll want to try to catch on the big screen.