DVD Release Date: June 18, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: March 1, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language)
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor,  Bill Nighy, Eleanor Tomlinson, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Christopher Fairbank, Mingus Johnston

After the worldwide success of Alice in Wonderland kickstarted the whole fairytale fad into gear in 2010, the films that followed have been mostly, well, meh, for lack of a better word.

Sure, Mirror Mirror offered a bit of comic relief and Snow White and the Huntsman was a visual feast and nothing more, but the real low point was January's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. If anything, the lame attempt to put an R-rated twist on a classic tale only seemed to indicate that big-screen fairy tales were heading in the same direction as the Twilight saga’s sparkly vampires—i.e. yesterday’s news.

That said, it’s not exactly surprising if the average film goer’s expectations are low for Jack the Giant Slayer. For one, the trailer does a pretty lackluster job of selling it, and secondly, the source material has never been a barnburner as far as fairytales go anyway. Lest we forget, it’s magic beans that propel the story into gear.

Despite all Jack the Giant Slayer has working against it perception-wise, imagine my surprise when it actually ends up being a fun couple of hours. Not only does the gorgeous detail in everything from the dreaded giants to the beanstalk itself maximize the 3-D format (a rarity these days), but the old-fashioned storytelling and cleverly staged action sequences can’t help reminding you of old favorites like The Princess Bride and even the Indiana Jones franchise.

Like he did in 2002’s About a Boy and more recently in 2011’s X-Men: First Class and February’s delightful zombie rom-com Warm Bodies, Nicholas Hoult puts his gangly everyman qualities to good use as the titular giant slayer. Staying mostly true to the story’s origins, Jack is still a poor farm boy who hasn’t had the time—or opportunity—for many life adventures. In fact, his uncle needs him to sell the family horse because cash is in particularly short supply. But as you’ve probably already guessed, the transaction doesn’t go as planned, and Jack winds up with beans—magic beans—instead.

But not all of Jack’s time in the kingdom of Cloister was a total bust, mind you. After locking eyes with a beautiful girl named Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, The Illusionist), Jack later discovers that she’s a princess who also craves adventure. Not happy with her father’s plan for her life, which includes marrying a man she doesn’t love, the narcissistic Roderick (an enjoyably evil Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games), Isabelle is dead set on seeing what the real world is like and plans to escape her overprotective father to do so. Making sure she stays out of trouble in the meantime is her father’s loyal subject, Elmont (Ewan McGregor, Angels & Demons).

Like Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday, escaping the palace life isn’t exactly easy for Isabelle. Sneaking out on a night where it’s pouring down rain, Isabelle and Jack are eventually reunited when she notices the light on in a nearby cabin that Jack’s staying in. Before they have much time for reconnecting, however, something positively horrifying happens when one of those beans gets wet.

Alas, it’s the beanstalk. Right on cue.

While those who already know the story won’t be surprised by many of the plot twists, the filmmakers do an exceptional job of keeping viewers engaged nonetheless. Not only is ample attention devoted to the characters, which gives the audience plenty of incentive to root for their well-being, but the performances, particularly from supporting players McGregor and Tucci, are inspired rather than phoned in.

Also adding to the film’s bottom line are the truly frightful antagonists—the giants. With the help of motion-capture technology and a scene-stealing performance from Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as a two-headed beast with two distinct personalities (one is a whole lot like Gollum from Lord of the Rings), the fact he feels more real than cartoonish helps deliver the fee-fi-fo-fum with aplomb.

Distinguishing itself from the more impersonal likes of, say, Transformers, Jack the Giant Slayer is a rare instance where the special effects really do make the film special. In other words, Michael Bay should be taking notes.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some social drinking depicted
  • Language/Profanity: Bast--- is used once, hel- is used twice and the expression “piss off” is also used once. Some scatological humor.
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing. Some women sport cleavage-y attire.
  • Violence: While largely bloodless, there are several intense fight sequences scattered throughout. One of the characters ends up on a spit wrapped up in pastry with two actual pigs in a blanket. Several men are casually tossed off the beanstalk to their death by their boss. A man is stabbed. Some intense scenes involving truly terrifying giants. When the giants burst through the town, several men and women perish. One character is killed off in spectacularly gruesome fashion.
  • Religion: Monks play a prominent role in the plot, and God is mentioned on several occasions (both reverently and in Roderick’s case, with utter disregard for His rule since he’s power-hungry and ultimately wishes he was in charge).

Christa Banister is an author and full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

Publication date: March 1, 2013