Here we go again: Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest example of Hollywood’s mania for reimagined fairy tales, following in the dubious footsteps of Red Riding Hood, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and even the TV series Once Upon a Time. Jack has a decent pedigree, with director Bryan Singer (the first two X-Men movies, The Usual Suspects) behind the camera, but it still comes out as an utterly generic Hollywood product, easily envisioned by plugging “Jack and the beanstalk” and “action blockbuster” into a theoretical screenplay generator (although the movie has four credited screenwriters).
Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, a humble farm boy sent to town to sell his family’s horse and carriage. There he acquires the expected magic beans, which here have been invested with a cursory backstory involving “dark magic” laid out in a Lord of the Rings-style prologue. The mechanics aren’t really relevant; the important thing is that the beans are planted, the giant beanstalk grows, and Jack finds himself climbing toward the kingdom of the giants, to rescue the requisite princess (Eleanor Tomlinson).
Hoult and Tomlinson play two-dimensional characters in a one-dimensional romance, and it’s hard to get invested in the predictable outcome of their pairing. The supporting characters have a little more flavor, but the pacing is off, meaning that Stanley Tucci gets to be delightfully villainous for about two-thirds of the movie (as a scheming lord set to marry the princess) before being completely discarded. Ian McShane (as the noble king), Ewan Bremner (as Tucci’s sniveling sidekick) and Ewan McGregor (as the head of the king’s guard) all have their moments, but in pretty limited fashion.
Aside from the spectacle of McGregor going into an oven as a human-in-a-blanket, there isn’t much humor, and the climactic battle seems like an afterthought added because the running time was too short and there weren’t enough explosions. With its paint-by-numbers plot and dull characters, Jack is like a Syfy miniseries with better special effects. Can we leave the fairy tales alone already?