Bryan Singer's “Jack the Giant Slayer” takes a centuries-old fairy tale and makes it fresh, energetic and wide-eyed in a way that stays faithful to the spirit of magical storybooks but resizes the story in all the right ways.
First and foremost, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is not in league with the spate of “dark reimaginings” of fairy tales that the major studios saw as a potential post-“Twilight” gold mine, movies such as “Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the ridiculous “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” which served up the Brothers Grimm with ironic distance and creative deficits. “Jack the Giant Slayer” is a deft combination of two separate-but-related stories, incorporating the sky-high fantasy of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and sweeping Arthurian adventure of “Jack the Giant Killer,” and the solid, earnest script by Christopher McQuarrie never winks at the audience as it climbs onward and upward.
Jack (Nicholas Hoult of “X-Men: First Class” and “Warm Bodies”) is a young farmhand who has a chance encounter with the adventurous Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) on a visit to the Kingdom of Cloister to sell his poor family's horse in a bad deal for a handful of magic beans. As Isabelle rebels against the protective nature of her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), her misadventures ultimately result in one of those beans taking root, sending the princess and the farm boy skyward on a towering, miles-high beanstalk.
What Jack encounters at the top of the stalk is an entire army of lumbering grotesque oafs led by General Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy), a colossus with a smaller secondary head growing out of his collarbone. The arrival of mortal men in their realm stirs up the giants, and Isabelle is captured. The crisis gives the king's shifty courtier Roderick (Stanley Tucci) a chance to make a power grab, forcing Isabelle's faithful knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Jack to make another ascent to wage war with the giants.
Hoult approaches Jack with refreshing innocence and earnestness, characteristics that Singer does his best to evoke throughout the entire film. The effects are better than most of the marketing for “Jack the Giant Slayer” might suggest — the motion-capture technology on the giants is impressive, and the computer animation on the beanstalk strongly conveys the idea of a massive, sky-high plant towering over the kingdom. With a committed cast and a story that does justice to the folk tale, “Jack the Giant Slayer” offers big surprises.
— George Lang