(Photos: Warner Bros.)
As fairy tale movies go, Jack the Giant Slayer is pretty middle-of-the-beanstalk. While it may lack a key distinguishing feature that has made certain fairy tale flicks beloved classics (The Princess Bride‘s witty self-awareness; Legend‘s visual daring; Labyrinth‘s enchanting leading lady, David Bowie), it’s a handsome, fast-paced, and nimble enough romp through one of bedtime lore’s less complicated narratives. Moviegoers looking for a moving or truly awe-inspiring escape might be disappointed, but casual fans of well-staged action, decently-rendered CGI, and stature-indiscriminate sausage parties might want to check it out.
It’s true: Jack the Giant Slayer may not be the funniest, cleverest, or most rapturous fairy tale movie around, but it is the manliest.
Let’s start at the beginning (once upon a time, even), as young farmboy Jack is frightened by a storm and has to be comforted by his hulking but painfully adorable beefcake of a father (budding “It Bear” Tim Foley). Pops tells Jack the legend of the giants, who live in the clouds but threaten to return to earth to eat us all if they can just hitch a ride down. One king managed to rule the giants with a magical crown, but both it and a handful of magical Jelly Bellies were buried with him, or something – Jack listens intently as his giant teddy of a father tells the story, but I keep getting lost in this giant’s twinkly eyes.
Aaaanybear, moving on…
Turns out the same story is being told somewhere across the kingdom to a young princess, Isabelle, by her mother, the Queen. Take careful note of these two ladies, because they are literally the only two female characters in the entire film. (see above re: “sausage party”)
Years later, Jack (Nicholas Hoult, who has finally grown into his cheekbones and the title of James Marsden 2.0) is tasked by his uncle (his poor papa died of the plague!) to sell an old horse, and anyone who’s heard the story knows what happens next. The familiar tale is beefed up with a tiny bit of political intrigue involving a dastardly giant-collector named Roderick (Stanley Tucci), but it’s pretty much exactly the original bedtime story from start to finish. Jack crosses paths with a lovely, fully-grown Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), a bean is dropped into a puddle, and from there the only way is up.
While the rote telling of the classic tale may not win any points for innovation, the all-male presentation of it does offer its share of engaging distractions. Take, for example, the head of the king’s guard, played effortlessly by an impressively Errol Flynn’d Ewan McGregor. McGregor is one of those lucky bastards who actually gets better looking as he ages, and he’s never been more handsome than he is here in IMAX 3D, proudly modeling form-fitting armor and a vaguely gay mustache. It’s probably worth noting that his character pointedly has no romantic entanglements or interests of any kind: is he married to his job, or does the kingdom have a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy? We’ll probably never know – but that shouldn’t stop us from imagining. This is a fairy tale, after all…