It is an age when fairy tales are retold with a modern spin, and spun out of control in an effort to be hip. Not so with JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, a retelling of that beanstalk tale that is pure perfection. It embraces the pure spirit of adventure to be found in a story with a brave farm boy, a bold princess, and a band of giants bent on taking vengeance upon, and making lunch of, the human race. If there is any updating to be found here, it is in the more complex story, and the clever writing that at no point takes the fatal plunge into irony.
This Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is no ordinary medieval farm boy. He can read, and is much taken with the story of how giants once invaded his country of Albion, a story involving the sort of good intentions with which the road to hell is paved. He’s also no fool when it comes to trading livestock for magic beans, which occurs, but for different reasons, and which eventually lead to Princess Isabelle (Elinor Tomlinson) finding herself at the top of the gargantuan beanstalk and in the clutches of giants with culinary intentions towards her, and intentions even less savory towards Albion and its neighbors. It falls to Jack to rescue her, along with Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the captain of the kings guard, and Isabelle’s unwelcome fiance, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), a man with ulterior intentions that render him positively giddy.
In keeping with the nature of fairy tales, there is magic afoot, that in itself is neutral, but devastating when it falls into the wrong hands. And the special effects, while spectacular, have the same dark edge to them that the story itself does, rife as it is with cliffhangers and disaster held at bay literally by a thread at one point. Characters die ugly deaths, off-screen for the most part, but with suggestive sound effects that make not seeing what is happening somehow worse. he beanstalk is a massive thing, twisted into curls of pure evil, and the giants, rendered with motion capture technology of startling detail, are not only ugly, they have disastrous hygiene. The toenails alone are the stuff of nightmares. Feats of derring-do and wicked deeds abound in a plot that is dynamic. The story is familiar, yet it is also one that finds delightful surprises of invention that manage to be both novel and completely in keeping with the original. The derring-doers and the wicked deeders are vibrant, performed by actors who take them seriously. Hoult has an open-faced and eager sincerity paired nicely with the intrepid spirit Tomlinson radiates. Tucci is sleek and dangerous, glib malevolence with a twinkle in his eye blithely removing obstacles and quipping with his bubble-haired henchman (Ewan Bremner), whose IQ is roughly the same as the circumference of his coif. McGregor, though, shines most brightly as the efficiently no-nonsense man of war in a thoughtful, polished performance of perfect sang froid that done by an actor of lesser innate charm would come off as arrogant.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is a thumping good tale aimed squarely at the sense of wonder, not at a demographic. It is a work of lively imagination, and even livelier execution that barely pauses long enough to let the audience catch its collective breath before taking it away again.