Hollywood's latest obsession is turning children's fairy tales into gritty adventures not meant for kiddies under 10. It's a dubious genre filled with both clunkers (Red Riding Hood) and generic time wasters (Snow White and the Huntsman).
That makes Jack the Giant Slayer the king of its realm, but ringing endorsements usually come with far more fanfare.
Nicholas Hoult, last seen winning tween hearts in Warm Bodies, brings the title character in the classic Jack and the Beanstalk yarn to life. In Slayer, young Jack ends up with a pocket full of "magic" beans once more, but the back story is far more ominous. A war once raged between humans and giants, and after a decisive battle the giants were defeated and kept far, far away.
That ends when one of those magic beans takes root and shoots a colossal stalk skyward, connecting the human realm to Giantopolis in the sky.
Giant Land? Giantville?
The beanstalk's quicksilver growth snatches lovely princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) in its branches, so the king (Ian McShane), a smitten Jack and a passel of warriors start climbing the beanstalk to retrieve her.
The vile Roderick (Stanley Tucci, having a ball) is among them, and while he's about to marry Isabelle as part of a rather poorly assembled matchmaking effort you just know he's up to no good.
Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) juggles the minor relationship subplots with the nifty action in a pure, unaffected manner. He's not shaking the camera or pretending Jack is anything but a pretty to look at lark. His ease with the material infects every sequence, allowing us to savor Tucci's hissable villain and the CGI giants which have more personality than Jack and Isabelle combined.
The film's sense of humor is problematic, with nose picking asides meant to appease those younger viewers who will find the action sequences far too menacing to endure. Ewan McGregor, cast as the king's loyal soldier, gets saddled with some infuriatingly weak dialogue including a variation of the oh, so stale, "i've got a bad feeling about this" line which could be an homage to the oh, so stale dialogue in the Star Wars prequels.
Jack the Giant Slayer won't make audiences look differently at a genre that began thanks to the industry's imagination drain. It's still a competently assembled saga with a third act that will make adults feel like children all over again.