Jack the Giant Slayer is the newest in the line of gritty reboots to children’s stories. Much like the recent Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, it gives us a dark thrill ride loosely based on the original story. And as with the slowly fading surge of superhero movies, it provides a fun spring action flick to pull the viewer into a different world for a couple hours.
The movie starts — after a long stretch of exposition to make sure you know exactly how the classic “Jack and the Beanstalk” story fits into this world — with lovable peasant Jack traveling to town to sell a horse and obtaining a bag of magic beans instead. The movie ends, in typical Hollywood fashion, with a full-scale war between humans and giants.
The film ups the ante, unabashedly grasping every detail it can grab hold of and translating it to its extreme, bringing horrifying villains and virtuous yet sassy knights in blindingly shiny armor to the screen. The excess of the film explores the conception of magical possibility that the story itself propagates: it is a world of castles and monsters and magic — all sprouting from one little bean.
However, while Jack the Giant Slayer builds upon the story we all know, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) creates a wonderful new world that succeeds because of its humor and attention to detail. The world is wonderfully imaginative, with amusing pieces of minutia strewn throughout the major narrative. Within this world, there’s everything from a marginalized religion based on the myth of the giants (whose devotees ultimately sit around all day, not doing much of anything) to automatic Gatling crossbows. Much of the movie’s entertainment came from the small details slipped in for their own sake. The result? A movie apparently born from the phrase: “You know what would be awesome?” And in this case, it works.
Excellent characters bolstered the intricate setting. The film’s team of three screenwriters (Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney) employed a range of the diverse figures — from the most amusingly despicable villains, to knights with “cool dude” auras about them, to a general with a full golden suit of armor, a twirling mustache and a monocle.
The writers crafted the characters wittily, allowing for great acting. The cast, including Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, delivered phenomenal performances. Each played with the perfect mix of seriousness and levity that the genre requires. Much more than the story itself, viewers will fall in love with the characters, who will stick around long after the movie ends.
I have no recent memory of time passing as fast as it did when watching this film. It shows just what can be done when a brilliant director and fantastic actors get hold of a movie that should be silly, but ends up becoming something else entirely. Don’t discount the film because of the name — it is a fantastic thrill ride and a great time. And though it was sloppy and simplistic at times, it remained extremely fun. It did what a movie should do and it did it well — it entertained me.