Review: Jack the Giant Slayer (Jack is This Year’s John Carter)

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X-Men provided director Bryan Singer a career expansion that’s finally imploded on him. The savvy he lent The Usual Suspects seems a distant memory in the face of his newest film, a remake of 1962’s cult-y Jack the Giant Killer. He preserves that film's awkwardness but not much else.

The villain here is cartoonish political climber Roderick (Stanley Tucci), intent on marrying the princess and running away with the kingdom. It’s he who loses the beans Jack (Nicholas Hoult) trades for a horse. The beans are loosed and the princess is swept away by the swiftly growing stalks.

Jack follows the princess into the giant’s kingdom alongside the royal guard, a brotherhood he’s always sought to enter but couldn’t because he’s not of noble birth. Ewan McGreggor is a thrillingly un-goofy action hero (though tasked with climbing a beanstalk and fighting a green screen) and Eddie Marsan is at his sneering best as McGreggor’s right-hand-guard.

The action is intense but spiritless—it’s heavy on fury and light on meaningful stakes—and any bigger issues (like the class upset of a farmboy joining the ruling class, or the vulnerability of the British monarchy, or even the futility of finding out how small you are) get sidestepped for a moral about how fairy tales are true. It's just one way the film feels geared towards kids—the giants are another misstep. They're a rough mix of broad humor and brutality, attracting kids too young for the bone-chewing violence they reap. Meanwhile, the consequences are none-too-bloody so if your 5-year-old seemed undamaged by The Hobbit (another film with scary monsters and kid-friendly comedy), maybe he can take Jack the Giant Slayer. When it comes to kids, I tend to play it safe.

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