Jack Be Nimble
Besides comic book movies, it seems that Fairy Tale ones are gaining traction in being reinvented for the big screen, given new twists and updates in characters and motivations, while keeping some core elements in order to retain some legitimacy with its origins. The latest attempt was Hansel and Gretel, which went the uber-violent way, while others such as Red Riding Hood tried to appeal to the Tweens. Then there are those which are swashbuckling action-adventures, which Jack the Giant Slayer belongs to.
And comic book movie directors can also find opportunity in this arena, with Bryan Singer, known to many for his X-Men films and his sole attempt at the Man of Steel, taking up the helm in creating a family friendly tale with its fair share of action and romance. Written by Darren Lemke and David Dobkin, the story draws parallels between the lives of a poor farm boy and a princess, brought up with legendary tales of Kings, Giants, and magical objects, who will have their lives converge when they meet and get involved in exactly the tale they're so familiar with, where Giants rule the land between the heavens and the earth, and are looking for opportunity to come back down again to feast on human flesh.
With the tale they grew up with validated, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) now has to join the rescue party led by the King's knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the treacherous Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the latter harbouring intent to lord over the Giants and usurp the throne of King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), to rescue Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) from the Giants' clutches. Most of the set action pieces happen while en route up the intertwined beanstalks, large and thick, and also in the Giant's domain, which you would already have a glimpsed of from the trailers, mixing some light comedy to thanks to some of the clumsy ways of the big guys, some with grotesque looks and habits.
Singer's narrative pace is kept fleet, never wasting much time dwelling over any certain point, with the legend and rules of the game laid out in the prologue, then falling back on the familiar need by Jack to sell his horse through which he got his magic beans, before having to traverse the beanstalk up and down, before finally building up for that large scale attack in the finale, befitting of the genre. Most of us would have been jaded by scale of attacks where armies have to lay siege to a city, and while it may be no different here, things are kept fresh through its surprises in weapons used in this fantasy-medieval period, with again, simplicity being key to the equation, the centerpiece of the action in the final act being one large tug-o-war. Scenes are kept short and sharp rather than lapsing into indulgence, making them seem a lot more intense, keeping that adrenaline pumping.
But for something family friendly, Singer and team had to opt for a lot of off-screen violence. There's nothing like the power of suggestion, and if not for a rating to appeal to a wider audience, this could have been a lot more violent. Which is that breath of fresh air given Hollywood's obsession of late to have everything graphically told, with that competition to see who can design on screen violence with the most blood and gore involved. With human-munching Giants, it's suggested, but no less powerful even when it's not explicitly shown.
Characterization in the film is kept simple, with most chracters being caricatures of the roles they are supposed to play. Ewan McGregor, easily the most recognizable of the lot, has a suave mustache and goatee help in his balance between the comical and the serious. The titular role went to Nicholas Hoult (painted blue as X-Men: First Class' Hank McCoy, who proved to be charismatic enough to pull off a role about the farmer boy made good (Luke Skywalker anyone?), while Eleanor Tomlinson did enough as the quintessential damsel in distress, which is quite the departure from the recent slew of strong female characters who are able to hold their own against adversary. Supporting roles were quite rote, such as Ian McShane and Bill Nighy as the main CG villain General Fallon, while Stanley Tucci could have benefited more from an extended screen time.
Still, Jack the Giant Slayer managed to slay a few sweet spots as far as action-adventure goes, and Singer shows he still has that bit of a touch when it comes to crafting big budgeted spectacles. So Fee Fye Foe Fumm, do make a beeline to watch this, with an epilogue that's extremely cheeky!