It’s an interesting idea – to make a theatrical, big-budget, computer effects-heavy action film based on the simple tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. It was most recently touched upon in “Puss in Boots,” with a similar subplot, but it’s now elaborated on with live-action gusto and grand chaos (illustrated by stunning CG and creative costumes and sets). Despite including all the clichés for goofy fantasy features, along with following the tired trend of larger-than-life heroes combating supernatural monstrosities, “Jack the Giant Slayer” never betrays the humorous, adventurous tone it wholeheartedly initiates. The mood doesn’t shift drastically, even when characters meet untimely demises, thanks to a consistency in gags, suspense, action, and romance. It’s impossibly generic, but unmistakably amusing (not a rollercoaster ride but a beanstalk ride).
Undependable farmer Jack (Nicholas Hoult) can’t manage the simple task of selling a horse and cart for money for his uncle’s farm. He’s greatly distracted by the beauty of princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), a woman betrothed to the king’s (Ian McShane) evil advisor Roderick (Stanley Tucci). As Roderick plots to use an ancient crown and magical beans to command armies of giants to overthrow the world, Jack accidentally winds up with the legumes in exchange for his steed. Scolded by his uncle for his incompetence, Jack turns the tables when he embarks on a harrowing mission to rescue the princess – who is carried away into the clouded heavens by a cumbrous green stalk – in a faraway land full of giants.
The casting is a bit of a conundrum, going for relative newcomers in the leads and unexpected, acclaimed European character actors in the supporting positions. Ewan McGregor, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, and the very recognizable voice of Bill Nighy (sounding entirely too much like the tentacle-faced Davy Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean) are amongst them, while the facially flamboyant Stanley Tucci plays the chief human villain. It’s purposeful to use an actor that is difficult to take seriously as a merciless murderer, but also rather contrary when so many other elements of the film are approached with such sprightly absurdity. There’s a clear preoccupancy with bodily boorishness as well, not only with repulsive, lumpy, mutated colossus designs, but also with facial mucus, gastrocolic discharges, and habitual aberration (of the PG-13 variety).
The clash of sensibility propagates to character development and inconsistencies in size and strength. The princess is anxious to demand that her father give her independence; the scene just before demonstrates her complete inability to defend herself, as a gang of drunks accosts her in the marketplace. And, as is common in films involving antiquated royalty, nobility forbids a commoner from marrying queenship – but it says nothing of common decency, which eludes the princess as she fails to ask Jack to accompany her back to the castle. She’s then surprisingly overjoyed when he reenters her life once again to warn her of yet another attempt on her life. As for visual consistency, the mountainous brobdingnagians that descend upon the city are, when convenient to stretch out anticipation, overpowered by tiny humans (in a particularly embarrassing tug-o-war), outrun by horses, unable to pass an innocuous moat of flaming oil, and cannot simply jump over the undersized walls of the castle. This is all despite their towering massiveness, which morphs from time to time to either aid or impede their destructive capabilities.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)