Is it a case of classic tale, classic movie?
Jack The Giant Slayer has all the hallmarks of a film that would make a better videogame. Perhaps it’s the opening scenes, which feel like one-too-many RPG fantasies, as we are shown the lives of two children so far apart (one low born, the other a princess) you already know they will collide. It continues with the production values, which in order to warrant the use of 3D (and that extra price tag in cinemas) have viewers falling through clouds and shooting across landscapes. It all might be a bit more fun if you were holding a joystick.
On the plus side, the collision of worlds takes place fairly quickly in a plot that doesn’t hang about. Jack takes his poor farm’s remaining livestock to be sold in the city, but with his head in the clouds – oh, the irony – he doesn’t quite get the deal he hoped for. One Gremlins warning later (“Don’t lose them and don’t get them wet”) and he’s accidentally sent a runaway princess into the sky atop a beanstalk. Could the stories both children were being read at the beginning of the film, about giants banished to the clouds, be true?
Once the quest to find the princess begins, we are thrust into a world filled with words such as cloister, Albion and Roderick. It’s like Monty Python, but without the right touch of madcap humour to make it work. Attempts at word play are also less clever than they think they are (“He wouldn’t spill the beans”, “We’re going to wake a sleeping giant”), although the range of English accents on show does at least make you wistfully think of Game Of Thrones. Ewan McGregor in particular is on fine clipped form and were this any other movie he’d be strapping on goggles and climbing into his fighter plane – he honestly says the words “Tally-ho” at one point.
Unfortunately, the seen-it-all-before feel continues with the trolls themselves. Apparently, Bill Nighy is unable to be rendered in CGI without resorting to a Scottish accent, making it seem as if someone has spliced scenes from Pirates Of The Caribbean into the middle of the film. The character team are also clearly big Lord Of The Rings fans, too. Where Gollum has the subtlety of arguing with his other, meaner, internal self, Nighy has an extra, stupidier head. While it’s well animated, it’s no real bonus.
The jury’s still out on Nicholas Hoult as a hero, too. He’s dashing in an everyman kind of way but the last time his geeky charm scored was in X-Men First Class opposite Jennifer Lawrence – and he wasn’t carrying the movie then. Here, as in zom-com Warm Bodies, he falls short, winning with the geeky stuff but lacking any chemistry with his female lead (The White Queen’s Eleanor Tomlinson).
There’s also an odd tone to the whole thing, as it can’t quite decide if it’s a kids’ film or a more adult movie. That’s partly the fault of the subject matter – tales of giants grinding bones after a whole lot of fee-fi-fo-fum make Jack The Giant Slayer a chilling bedtime story. Watching hulking beasts snack on humans is a giant step beyond that, so much of the gruesome stuff takes place slightly off camera or way in the distance, cutting away as death is dealt.
In the end, that’s the film’s main problem. It rumbles along, adequately, has passable turns from all involved (Ian McShane barely stretches to play the English king), but it’s too scary for kids and not scary enough for adults. Somebody pass us that joystick…