Bryan Singer, the visionary director behind X-Men, X2, and Valkyrie, takes a giant step into a familiar fairy tale with a twist in his new movie, Jack the Giant Slayer. Complete with successful humor in the form of olden day puns, incredible use of CGI, and a cast that works well with each other and within their roles, this modern take on a classic tale was certainly one of epic proportions.
If you’re in need of some freshening up on the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, this is it in a nutshell. Jack is a young farm boy living with his widowed mother, and their only income is from their cow. One morning the cow stops producing milk, but on the way to sell it at the market Jack is stopped by a man who exchanges “magic” beans for it. His mother is furious and throws them out the window, and while they’re sleeping, the beans grow into a gigantic beanstalk.
He climbs it, finding the home of a giant whose wife is only there. The giant returns and begins counting his money, but Jack is hidden by the wife and later steals the bag of coins. He returns over the next two days, making off with a hen that lays golden eggs and a magical harp that plays on its own. The final time the giant follows him back down the beanstalk. His efforts are to no avail as Jack chops down the beanstalk with an axe, killing his colossal pursuer.
First and foremost, Singer basically changes the entire classic version, but in such a way where he has you thinking, “All right, this is actually pretty smart, I like it,” and not, “Why on earth did he even try?”
The plot in Singer’s version places Jack (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) with his poor, irritable uncle after the deaths of both his mother and father. Jack is sent to the market with a horse and cart to sell, and even though the cart is stolen, like the classic, he ends up trading the horse for the beans. His uncle is furious upon his return and smacks the beans out of his hands, scattering them across the floor. One of them manages to fall through the cracks into the soil beneath the floorboards.
A storm stirs up that night and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, Alice in Wonderland) finds herself at Jack’s door after running away from the kingdom and her overprotective father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane, We Are Marshall). While they’re both inside, the bean gets wet from the rain and the beanstalk takes Jack’s house right to the top, but not before he falls off, leaving Isabelle to the mysterious land past the clouds. The king sends Jack, his trusty knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars Episode I, II, III), and his devious assistant Roderick (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games) up the beanstalk to rescue his daughter, but what they find is nothing what they expect.
Although the stories are incredibly different from modern to classic, Singer’s form is a highly entertaining film that has a non-animated version of Shrek tone in terms of the light hearted fairy tale mood throughout. King Brahmwell is very reflective of Lord Farquaad in some areas of personality, and the constant medieval jokes and puns are abundant. At one point Roderick has a crown on and toys, “Maybe all the power’s gone to my head!” Obviously not cause for ab-burning laughter, but in the midst of the story even I found myself chuckling at these jokes because of the situations they are used in.
One of the greatest characters in the movie, that isn’t even really a character, is the beanstalk. The cinematography and CGI behind the scenes with the beanstalk as the main focal point are insanely good. The movements and sounds it makes reminded me a lot of the Devil’s Snare and Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter movies. The vegetation truly takes on a life of its own through the fluidity of the growth and swinging of the vines and stalks, giving the feeling that it has its own personality.
The human cast is good, not great in their performances, but I think that was necessary to allow Singer’s incredibly creative idea for the new, fresh plot to stand out. Despite that, one of my favorite casting choices was that for General Fallon, the de facto leader of the giants. He is amazingly well-voiced by veteran actor Bill Nighy, who is most memorable to me as Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He went to school for English Language and English Literature and it shines through in his voice, giving animalistic characters memorable personas and catch phrases, and the same holds true for Fallon.
I didn’t expect such a gargantuan difference in the story compared to the classic, but I have to say, Singer came through with a very refreshing spin. Utilizing timely comedy, excellent CGI and some cool action sequences, Jack the Giant Slayer was an adventurous film in more than one way. Seven out of 10.