While audiences have been treated to three or more fairy tale reimaginings a year lately, Hollywood gems have been few and far between. The new takes have either been too comical to be taken seriously (a la Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) or too lackluster to leave an impression (Snow White and the Hunstman). So what made Jack the Giant Slayer stand out among their number?
Well, not shirking the origin story helped a lot for starters.
Jack the Giant Slayer managed to succeed on a number of fronts where these fairy tale rewrites have been failing. To begin, Jack himself (played by Nicholas Hoult of X-Men: First Class and Warm Bodies fame) is nothing but warmth, honesty and good intentions, one of the most good-for-goodness’-sake heroes I can recall seeing in a very long time. He’s the sort of lad you wouldn’t mind any child emulating, kind and brave and stalwart. He avoids the outright avarice that many versions of the story employ because his tale is motivated by love rather than fear and hunger, and the affection he is harboring is more about a will to impress than the stars in his eyes, which is refreshing as well.
Being a modern take and directed by Bryan Singer, the film does have perhaps more than its fair share of action sequences. In fact, it is reasonable to say that the movie does nothing but jump from one fraught situation to the next. On the other hand, while the fights and running about never cease, the script does a very good job of hopping from one problem to the next, preventing boredom from setting in. The special effects are well done, the locales are impressively varied, and the landscape is well-developed for a fantasy world that we are given very little information on. In addition, the final battle being primarily concerned with the defense of a citadel wins the film points in my book. The use of portcullises should always be commended, especially when they are named aloud....
The giants themselves are half monster, half comic relief, and as a result they can get a bit gross and goofy. Still, the film balances the act rather well, and children are bound to be amused even when adults are groaning. The humor does go for some more sophisticated jokes in places, and those are worth waiting for.
Though the film’s protagonist is the eponymous Jack, the tale’s princess is offered a better role than most fantasy yarns of late claim for their starring female characters. Eleanor Tomlinson’s Isabelle is the squeaky wheel, the adventurous princess—encouraged by her mother the deceased queen as an extra plus—who cannot sit by and allow others to make her life’s decisions. Though another yarn might have spent its time berating the princess for taking matters into her own hands, Jack himself prevents her from ignoring her own self-worth; when she pronounces the role of princess to be a “useless thing,” Jack tells her clearly that she is vital, and more than that, her choices led to incredible good. It is shocking to see one of these fable films offer its female protagonist so much credit, even if it is a shame that we never get to see her take up arms.
While the prince and princess are the heart of the film, it’s the supporting cast that steals the show. Stanley Tucci is an appropriately despicable villain (who still manages to do very well in explaining to us why bad guys do their thing despite pleas to renege on their odious ways) and Eddie Marsan is his special brand of lovable comic relief, and Ian McShane is as eloquent and regal a king as you could ask for. But Ewan McGregor is reason enough to see the film all on its own; one can only help but think that if he’d been allowed to play Obi-Wan Kenobi with half the charm that Elmont possessed, the Star Wars prequels might have been very different. His adoption of the tenth Doctor’s hair style didn’t hurt either.
There are homages to the original tale all over the movie, and at first they appear to be charming additions designed to make the audience point and giggle. It’s not until the end of the narrative that the script makes it clear to all of us—the origin of the tale is part of the story, and our modern conception of Jack’s plight is a piece of the jigsaw. Considering how aggravating it has been to watch film after film ignore these humble bedtime origins, Giant Slayer has done audiences who love the art of storytelling a great service by not neglecting its roots.
So it’s a sweet tale, and one that pays its predecessors better due than any fairy tale film that has been released in the past decade, I’d say. For that alone I’d recommend the trip to the theater, but the sheer lovability of its characters doesn’t hurt either. For those in need of a genuine romp, I’d say this does the job.