Those hoping director Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” would bring a fresh spin to the age-old fairy tale will be thoroughly disappointed. The film rehashes the same, familiar feudalism tropes that have existed since the Middle Ages.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a peasant farm-boy who has grown up with legends of giants and beanstalks, is at the town’s theater when he rescues the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) from intimidating men. Though Jack is willing to accept this one-off encounter with the princess, he finds her on his doorstep at his farm while she is escaping from her impending marriage. Roderick (Stanley Tucci), her intended fiancé, is a greedy man who plots for world domination by releasing the giants onto mankind. When magic beans sprout into a giant beanstalk, taking the princess to the giants’ land, the king (Ian McShane) sends his guard Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and his best men up the beanstalk to rescue the princess. Naturally, Jack volunteers to go along with the chivalrous Elmont to rescue the damsel in distress.
It’s not hard to guess what happens from here. After all, all fairy tales end with their happily ever after, and screenplay writers Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney stick close to that idea, making the film quite bland. Though Lemke is also accredited on the writing team for “Shrek Forever After,” Fiona, the ogre princess, has more sass than Princess Isabelle ever did. “A princess is such a useless thing,” Isabelle even says at one point between her capture by giants and her rescue.
The script is predictable, fantastical and fundamentally flawed. The plot progresses at such breakneck speed that the actions seem as implausible as the condensed, three-day relationship between William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” If Jack is Romeo, Isabelle is Juliet. But rather than compare thee to the moon, Jack takes on a hoard of colossal CGI giants. For a farm-boy who’s afraid of heights, Jack gets over his fear and climbs that beanstalk awfully fast.
Hoult, known as the playboy Tony in the first two seasons of the British television show “Skins,” and McGregor, known for his award-winning performances in “Trainspotting” and “Moulin Rouge!,” are capable of giving more well-rounded performances, but the script holds them to these two-dimensional knight-in-shining-armor roles. The noble heroes lack development beyond their roles as good guys.
Lemke, McQuarrie and Studney’s script does provide context, which the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” lacked. “Jack the Giant Slayer” is about more than a thief who steals golden eggs. However, their retelling of this fractured fairy tale is not as memorable as the giants’ refrain: fe fi fo fum, a proper synonym for the film’s mediocrity.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” misfires with predictable script and undeveloped characters.