I am in serious danger of over-hyping Bryan Singer’s Jack The Giant Slayer, for the simple reason that I thought it was going to be rubbish, and it really isn’t. Played dead straight, without a whiff of post-modern irony that seems compulsory these days, the film takes some of the core elements from the classic folktale Jack and the Beanstalk, but only as much as it needs to tell a rip-roaring adventure in the classic mold, complete with dashing heroes, beautiful princesses, scary giants and duplicitous villains.
Nicholas Hoult can claim back to back successes after Warm Bodies and now this, in which he plays the titular farm boy who comes into possession of magic beans, which sprout into a giant beanstalk, bridging our world with that of some rather unpleasant giants. With the knee-knockingly lovely Princess isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) trapped in the giants’ kingdom, Jack volunteers to join a rescue party, led by the gallant and heroic Elmont (a spectacularly tufty Ewan McGregor) and accompanied by Isabelle’s betrothed, scheming royal advisor, Roderick (Stanley Tucci). Before long, Roderick has used an ancient crown to assume control of the giant army and is plotting an atack on the kingdom. Meanwhile, Elmont schools Jack in swashbuckling daring-do, and the Princess discovers she may have eyes for a commoner after all.
Singer has had a wobbly career of late, with only the entertaining but underwhelming WWII yarn Valkyrie to speak of since he crashed and burned with Superman Returns back in 2006. Jack the Giant Slayer could be seen as Singer continuing to play it safe, or worm himself out of director jail, but the film really works as a piece of family friendly escapism. Screenwriter Christopher Macquarrie, brought onto the project after Singer replaced D.J. Caruso, resists the temptation to go the way of The Princess Bride or Shrek, and instead embraces the traditional fairytale aspects of the story. Anyone who grew up with the likes of Willow, Time Bandits or dare I say, Star Wars, should find themselves on familiar, but welcome, turf.
Hoult, Tomlinson and McGregor make for a likable trio of protagonists, not a million miles away from Luke, Leia and Han Solo, while Tucci is in his element as their despicable nemesis. Worthy support is provided by Ian McShane as the king, Ewan Bremner as Roderick’s slimy lapdog and Bill Nighy as the giant leader, General Fallon. There are even roles for the likes of Warwick Davis and Eddie Marsan, although they are asked to provide little more than set dressing.
The giants themselves are rendered using a combination of performance capture and CGI work, which looks pretty great when we see the craggy faced, snot-sucking creatures up close. Singer makes a valiant effort to use the 3D well, with the twisting beanstalks and impressive reach of the giants often exploiting the depth of the image, but as is so often the case, it proves a fool’s errand that I’d sooner do without. However, Jack the Giant Slayer works, not because it masters the latest technological advances, but because it embraces the archetypes of classical storytelling, and the results are strangely refreshing.