Jack The Giant Slayer? More like Jack The Giant Shower. For the first half of the film, poor Nicholas Hoult’s farmhand Jack battles the elements more than foul, bogey-eating giants. We know it’s very British to complain about the weather, but the violent onslaught of 3D rain makes us feel practically soaked through.
It’s a relief then, when Jack unwittingly spills the beans and a convincing CGI beanstalk rockets out of the earth, taking Princess Isabelle with it. Jack and all the King’s men flee drizzly Blightly for Gantua, the land of the giants. It wasn’t their choice of residence, even though it looks perfectly lovely (a bit like Niagara Falls), and they’re still miffed with the humans that exiled them a thousand years ago.
The story is loosely based on Jack And The Beanstalk and the older, darker tales of Jack The Giant Killer. In reality, it’s takes more of a Pirates Of The Caribbean approach to legend. Directed by X-Men’s Bryan Singer, this claims to be the true story of how it all went down. The rest are just Chinese whispers, distorted through the ages. Was it a horse or a cow Jack made the unlikely trade for? Did he make away with some gold coins, or was it something else?
It’s set in the archetypal English hamlet of Cloister and features a British invasion of actors. Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor join Eleanor Tomlinson and Singer even borrowed Ian McKellen from The Hobbit to deliver the opening narration. As the leading man, Nicholas Hoult proves he has the comedic chops and everyday man quality to become a likable hero, and though the movie has little time for mushy stuff, you genuinely believe he fancies Princess Isabelle and will do anything to save her royal heinie.
Isabelle (Tomlinson) is a feisty heroine who wants to escape the castle confines and have adventures of her own. She stands up to her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), and pleads with him not to marry her off to Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci) – who’s like Shrek’s Lord Farquaad only not as funny – but inevitably she becomes a live action Disney damsel. We want to see her kick some gargantuan arse but that’s left to the men in the story, including loyal knight Elmont (McGregor) who will lay down his life for no apparent reason other than it says so in the script, and Roderick who is nursing his own dastardly scheme.
It’s easy to tell who’s good and who’s evil by how peculiar they look. Horsey teeth + joke shop wig = nasty bastard. The humour borders on panto (there’s even a variation of ‘it’s behind you!’), adding to the Britishness of this blockbuster. The giants are equally dry on material, farting and belching for cheap laughs. They’re pretty bloodthirsty and plenty of men are guzzled headfirst, but it’s the onscreen equivalent of the pull-your-finger-apart trick: blood-free and child-friendly.
Where Jack The Giant Slayer excels isn’t in the story or the script, it’s the colossal special effects. The pacey running time is rammed with action sequences; zip lining across vines, dodging flaming trees, and raining arrows on the giants. The over-sized villains are immensely detailed and when one peers into the camera you can count every pore and hair on his bulbous nose. The production was delayed for almost a year and Singer has clearly used it to polish his project, but you have to wonder why it was pushed back for so long in the first place.
Disappointingly, it’s not as big and clever as it could have been.