X-Men director Bryan Singer, Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, a (rumoured) $195million budget and a cast featuring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Bill Nighy – the ingredients for fairy-tale adventure Jack the Giant Slayer certainly sound promising. Yet the finished fantasy isn’t as fantastic as you might hope.
The story is awkwardly clunky, for a start, and takes an age to set up its principal characters – scrappy farmboy Jack (Hoult), feisty princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), oblivious ruler King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) and weaselly would-be usurper Roderick (Tucci). More time – and scads of rhyming doggerel – is spent establishing that the mythic medieval realm of Cloister is under threat from a sky-dwelling race of giants.
But when Jack finally gets around to his inevitable mishap with the magic beans the film gets into its stride. The thrusting, twisting beanstalk that erupts from the ground to link the giant and human realms is an impressive CGI creation and the giants manage to be alternately scary and comic, with a gravel-throated Nighy proving his motion-capture mettle as their grotesque two-headed leader.
Once it’s fully underway, Jack’s quest balances thrills and humour. And, this time, it’s not a solo turn. Tucci’s sly Roderick and a group of knights are also involved in the stalk-climbing mission. The bravest of the bunch is McGregor’s dashing Elmont, who is forever exhorting his companions with clipped cries of ‘Come on chaps’ and ‘Tally ho!’, and never loses his posh sang-froid, even when he’s been rolled-up in pastry and is about to be popped into the oven by a snot-dripping giant chef.
With Tucci gleefully hamming it up as the villain, it’s the supporting cast who are full of beans, rather than the overshadowed young leads. Even so, the film falls well short of, say, The Princess Bride when it comes to fairy-tale foolery and wit. But even if this Jack won’t go down as a classic, it still supplies reliable family-friendly entertainment.
In cinemas from Friday 22nd March.
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