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Jack the Giant Slayer
***
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy

It might be a million miles away from killing many men in the harbour with Keyzer Soze, but Bryan Singer has taken telling tall tales to new heights with Jack the Giant Slayer.

Singer’s story fills in the gaps around what is, for most, a familiar fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.
In this version, however,  Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a well-read farmboy, living with his uncle after a plague left him orphaned. There’s a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who needs saving and the magic beans are actually a sacred item for an order of monks sworn to keep the kingdom of Cloister and the rest of the world safe from giants. Oh and there’s giants. Lots and lots of giants.

Make no mistake Jack the Giant Slayer is a kids movie. But then, so was The Princess Bride and if that isn’t somewhere in your top 20 films of all time then your soul, I’m afraid, is a barren desolate place.

It’d be hard to believe Rob Reiner’s classic adventure wasn’t a touchstone for Singer, or, more recently, Matthew Vaughan’s Stardust. For all its fun and charm, however, Jack’s tale and the world of Cloister in general seem less full somehow. Less densely populated with myth and legend than its adventurous antecedents.

What distinguishes the former from the latter is the attention to detail. The Princess Bride had brillaint cameos and memorable snatches of dialogue that stuck in the brain and wouldn’t let go. Stardust’s fairytale world was so brimming with plot, side-plot and unrelated endeavour that it was almost hard to follow the main story.

Unfortunately, while Jack the Giant Slayer can lay claim to a number of good performances – Hoult and Tomlinson are agreeable leads and McGregor, Tucci, McShane and Bremner provide excellent support – there isn’t much else going on without them.

While the giants are, literally, a huge part of the story, they don’t really make much of an impact on proceedings. There’s Fallon the general, he’s got two heads and sometimes sounds like the villainous Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean films (probably because Billy Nighy voices both) and there’s Fee, Fi, Foe and Fumm, notable because they’re named after a line from the legend that we’re all familiar with. And that’s it. The rest of the oversized hoards are an anonymous lump of animated fury that makes little or no impact on the audience.

That said, the opening sequence when Jack and Isabelle’s father and mother respectively read them the story of the giants’ first incursion to the lands of men and the dark and bloody history behind the beans is brilliant. Those giants are worthy of a bit of peasant terror. Similar to the storytelling interlude in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Jack’s animated scene-setter kind of steals the show as far as memorable bits go.

Despite all this whinging, however, it cannot be denied that Jack the Giant Slayer is a bigger, better, sweeter slice of entertainment than most of what passes as entertainment out there.

Saying it can’t hold a candle to The Princess Bride is like saying the best basketball player in Ireland can’t compare with Michael Jordan. Just because they’re not the best ever doesn’t mean they can’t beat you or me in a quick game of one-on-one.

It’s not perfect but it avoids nearly all the pitfalls of films aimed at young folks – it’s not schmaltzy or pandering. It has a romantic element but doesn’t go to Twilight-ville on it. The younger folks aren’t overly smart, talented or cute and the grown-ups aren’t wilfully dense just to further the plot.

Princess Isabelle is more than just a damsel that needs saving and Jack doesn’t miraculously develop sword-fighting talents above and beyond what a farmer should have just  in time for a final battle.

The grotesque is embraced whenever possible and unpleasant things happen. It’s not a squeaky clean High School Musical-style version of a fairytale.

As films about magic beans, enchanted crowns and giants descending from the sky go, the story makes sense. More or less.

In comparison to other fantasy fare from recent years Jack the Giant Slayer features relatable characters, a coherent story and enough spectacle to keep the rugrats and their keeper distracted for most of an afternoon at least.

Not a classic but far from a washout.

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