Very tall tale
A fairly fun, if predictable, adventure
Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) exchanges mutants for giants in his latest film, revisiting the classic folktales Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer.
For this adaptation we start in familiar territory, with a teenage Jack (Nicholas Hoult) accidentally letting some magical beans loose into the soil, causing an enormous beanstalk to explode toward the sky. It connects to a dangerous land between Heaven and Earth, where angry giants dream of making human bones into afternoon snacks. With this retelling there’s a new twist—the beanstalk has also carried Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) into the giants’ world and, damsel in distress that she is, she needs saving! For all its updating, the storyline doesn’t do much for feminism.
At the beginning of the film we see clever parallels between Jack and Isabelle. As young children, they separately dream about adventures that will take them away from their restrictive abodes. For Jack, it’s exploring the world outside his humble shack, while Isabelle wants to run away from the humdrum life of royalty. Despite their class difference, we’re led to believe that they’re kindred spirits and, more important, equals, but once the giant-slaying action is kicked into high gear it becomes clear that they are not.
The seemingly independent Isabelle becomes the victim of the story, and even when she does get the chance to do some of her own ass-kicking, it’s Jack who gets all the glory. I know the source story is based in more patriarchal times, but for the sake of a 21st-century remake (and young female viewers), it’d be nice to get a little more spunk from the ladies. (OK, rant over.)
The journey up the beanstalk does produce some fun moments from a strong ensemble of actors. As knight Elmont, Ewan McGregor is a weird hybrid of macho hero and pretty boy, complete with a quaffed hairstyle that is centuries before its time. Stanley Tucci is strong as always, playing Roderick, the slimy fiancé of Isabelle, who has ulterior motives for saving his “love” in this arranged agreement.
And roaming around the fantasy land of the giants’ world looks pretty cool on the big screen. (I found myself wishing to explore the area myself, sans giants.) From the countryside to the eerie forested lands, the scenery is basically a B version of a Peter Jackson movie. Unfortunately, the storyline can’t compare so easily to those of the Ring films.
All the basic fairytale themes are recycled here: saving a kingdom from otherworldly perils, true love overcoming class differences, and so on. It’s fun, but, just as the giants might, we literally see it all coming from a mile away. When you think it’s over, of course, it isn’t (and you certainly can glimpse a sequel on the horizon).
Luckily for families, the film isn’t as gruesome as the title suggests. The giant “slaying” is pretty tame, so most kids should be able to handle this in the theater.