Movie review: 'Jack the Giant Slayer'

Jack the Giant Slayer

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci

Rated: PG-13 (intense scenes of fantasy action violence, frightening images, brief mild language)

Running time: 114 min.

Posted 10:42pm on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

In the make-believe Middle Ages of the children's tale Jack and the Beanstalk, it's highly unlikely that anyone ever said, just before attempting some feat, "I got this." But it's this little anachronism -- a slight nod to modernity without pushing it too far -- that makes the updated retelling, Jack the Giant Slayer, a breezily enjoyable blast of sword-wielding fantasy.

Nicholas Hoult (the zombie teen in Warm Bodies) is Jack, a good-hearted peasant kid orphaned at a young age and in the care of his uncle (Christopher Fairbank). Forced by poverty to sell their horse at the market, Jack ends up trading it for a handful of magic beans from a mysterious monk. This is also where he unwittingly rescues the local princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), from local ruffians who don't realize who she is. Of course, he'll have more chances to save her later.

Back home, Uncle doesn't care about beans and princesses, so he tosses the beans away while reading Jack the riot act. Big mistake. Once exposed to water, these beans explode skyward with huge, coiling stalks that lead to the world of the giants -- who've just been waiting to wreak revenge on humanity for a defeat that happened so many ages before that people thought it was just a legend.

Director Bryan Singer ( The Usual Suspects, X-Men), working from a script by Darren Lemke ( Shrek Forever After), Christopher McQuarrie ( Jack Reacher) and Dan Studney ( Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical), keeps things moving briskly. He's helped along by a solid cast, including Ian McShane as the king, Ewan McGregor as his loyal foot soldier Elmont and Stanley Tucci as the vile and ambitious Roderick, a man who thinks he can harness the power of the giants to make himself king.

But the real star is the technology, which turns actors Bill Nighy and John Kassir into the two-headed giant leader General Fallon. Though it sometimes seems as if the perspective is a little odd -- the film is in 3-D, which it doesn't really need -- the meshing of the world of the rampaging giants with that of the lilliputian humans is about as seamless as could be hoped.

Jack the Giant Slayer may be too intense for the youngest viewers. While there's no gore, humans being stomped and eaten isn't exactly the stuff of sweet dreams. Fee-fi-fo-fum, indeed.

Yet Singer keeps a light touch, never straying too far from the source story's sense of whimsy while at heart being a love story between a boy and a princess. Unlike Peter Jackson with the overstuffed The Hobbit, Singer shies away from the epic and settles for entertaining. Sometimes that's more than enough.

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