"Jack the Giant Slayer" joins the pack of recent storybook titles that have been turned into sprawling Hollywood cinematic spectacles. You know the recent trend, "Snow White and the Huntsman," "Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters," but unlike many others, "Jack" sticks close to its fairytale roots and is all the better for it.
Director Bryan Singer, in his first film since the 2008 World War II drama "Valkyrie," which starred Tom Cruise, has selected a worthy beast in Jack to come out of hiding for. A Cruise-ish looking Nicholas Hoult, who was so engaging in the recent "Warm Bodies," plays Jack as a wide-eyed farm boy whose run-in with a monk nets him some magic beans. Stanley Tucci, in a role that he milks for all its worth with wonderful results, is the gap-toothed villain who is in hot pursuit of the beans. The magic they possess is, as we know, that the beans will sprout a giant beanstalk. In this case, it leads to a place between Heaven and Earth where a legion of hideous giants lives.
Adding to this Arthurian drama is a princess who is desperate to not live her life cloistered (not ironically, the name of the kingdom she'll eventually inherit is Cloister). Newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson is the likeable Princess Isabelle who finds fancy with Jack after he rescues her from some drunken peasants who mistake her for a commoner.
Their adventure begins when she and Jack end up in the middle of the chaos of the sprouting beanstalk. When Isabelle is captured by the giants, it's up to Ewan McGregor, who is cast as a brave knight, to risk life and limb to rescue the princess. McGregor is one of the many high points of the film, channeling his former self from Jedi knight days.
Singer keeps his giants under wrap just long enough to build the excitement for the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum introduction. The giants are spectacularly rendered, as is the beanstalk, and worth every penny of the $190 million budget -- giant, even by Hollywood standards.
The story by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney, adds an evildoer element to the proceedings. These giants want to take over the world rather than just smell the blood of an Englishman. The giants, no doubt, are the stars of "Giant Slayer" and they are fantastical. The most impressive is the Giant General, voiced with wonderful manic energy by Bill Nighy. He's a two-headed monster (his smaller twin-self head is voiced by John Kassir, whose voice is most recognizable as the Cryptkeeper in "Tales from the Crypt.")
Undoubtedly, critics will find reason to skewer "Jack the Giant Slayer," but this inventive adventure deserves a chance. At less than two hours, it moves along at a pleasurable pace with plenty of action to keep audiences fully entertained. The producers have faith in the film, too, leaving the "happily ever after" open-ended at the closing credits for a sequel.