From “Snow White and the Huntsmen,” to “Mirror Mirror,” to “Hansel and Gretle: Witch Hunters,” to “Red Riding Hood,” the film industry has really been banking on adult-oriented fairytales as of late. Television has additionally gotten in on this fairytale fad with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” NBC’s “Grimm,” and, to a lesser extent, the CW’s “Beauty and Beast.” So what’s been causing this recent outbreak of fairytale reinterpretations aimed at grown-up audiences? Perhaps it can be attributed to the concept of nostalgia. Since fairytales are typically the first stories ever introduced to us, everybody identifies with them. By giving these timeless tales a PG-13 spin, they can appeal to our inner child while also satisfying our desire for something more mature. “Jack the Giant Slayer” comes close to working as a fun fantasy adventure for childish adults and sophisticated kids. If only the familiar story had more of a twist to it.
Obviously, the film is all about a young man named Jack, played by Nicholas Hoult of “Warm Bodies.” He’s a good-hearted, yet absentminded, soul who constantly has his head in the skies. Jack’s ADD causes him to foolishly trade the family horse for a pouch of magic beans at the market. Jack’s apparent love interest is Princess Isabelle, played by the luminous Eleanor Tomlinson, who wants to see the world and have swashbuckling adventures. But her kingly father insists that Isabelle remain confined to the castle and one day marry Roderick, a calculating royal advisor played by Stanley Tucci. How much do you want to bet that it turns out Roderick is actually a bad guy planning to betray everyone?
Isabelle runs away from home and seeks refuge in Jack’s cottage just as the magic beans are starting to grow. Out of the ground skyrockets a beanstalk that takes Jack’s house and the princess into the heavens. Legend has it that a kingdom of giants lives in the clouds above and they don’t take kindly to humans. Naturally, it’s up to Jack and Ewan McGregor’s Elmont, the captain of the king’s guard, to save the princess before the giants get to her first.
As you can tell, the plot plays out much like Disney’s “Aladdin,” only with magic beans instead of a magic lamp and giants instead of a genie. Granted, “Aladdin” didn’t have the most original story in the world. But the reason that film resonated with so many people is because the characters were interesting, the approach was unique, and the narrative had a sense of humor about itself. That’s really not the case with “Jack the Giant Slayer.” For the most part it’s just a by-the-numbers fairytale with “Lord of the Rings”-inspired action.
Hoult and Tomlinson are both endearing young stars with promising futures. While they’re perfectly likable leads, their characters never evolve beyond the unlikely hero and damsel in distress archetypes. Tucci and McGregor have a ball in their roles, but aren’t given much depth either. The biggest disappointment lies in the giants, which are all broad CGI creations with no personality. The only one the audience gets to know at all is Fallon, a two-headed giant played by Bill Nighy and John Kassir of “Tales from the Crypt.” One would think that a two-headed giant would amount to something creative, but the film never takes advantage of the endless possibilities.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is undoubtedly a well-crafted movie in terms of art direction, costumes, and musical score. Director Bryan Singer of “X-Men” and “Superman Returns” occasionally dished out an energetic action sequence. What Singer needed was a more inventive screenwriting team to think outside the box. With a superior script, this could have been a witty fantasy along the lines of “The Princess Bride,” “Stardust,” or the first two “Shrek” movies. By mostly playing matters strait though, “Jack the Giant Slayer” just never rises to the occasion.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.