Friday 23 March 2018

Giant tale needs more magic beans

Big film release: Jack the Giant Slayer (12A, general release, 114 minutes) **

Nicholas Hoult stars in Jack The Giant Slayer
Nicholas Hoult stars in Jack The Giant Slayer

Paul Whitington

First published in the early 1700s, the legend of Jack the Giant Killer is an ancient staple of English folklore. Most film adaptations have resorted to animation to depict the dark and grisly tale of magic beans and murderous giants, but this $200m Bryan Singer behemoth mixes live action and CGI to gloopy and stultifying effect.

It stars former child actor Nicholas Hoult as Jack, a lowly farm boy in the kingdom of Cloister who has always been fascinated by stories of giants.

When he's sent to the market by his grumpy uncle to sell a horse, Jack comes to the rescue of the kingdom's princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), when she's accosted by ruffians. Jack is smitten, but the royal guard intervene and he and the princess are separated. Jack is halfheartedly hawking his clapped-out horse at the market when a monk bursts from the palace pursued by guards. He offers Jack a bag of magic beans in exchange for the animal and, before Jack can argue, has mounted the horse and galloped off.

Jack goes home to face the music, and is duly read the riot act by his uncle. But the beans are magic, and when one of them drops through the floorboards of their cottage and is nourished by rainwater, bad things start to happen.

Isabelle has escaped from the palace and come in search of Jack when a giant green stalk plunges up from the earth and flings Jack's house into the air. He falls out but Isabelle gets stuck and disappears into the clouds.

When the King (Ian McShane) organises a search party led by his head guard Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to climb the stalk in search of his only child, Jack insists on going with them. So, however, does Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), a treacherous cad with designs on the kingdom. When they reach the top of the beanstalk, they find themselves on the edge of the realm of the giants. And while Elmont and Jack search for Isabelle, Roderick is intent on using a magic crown to subdue the giants and lead them on an invasion of Cloister.

The giants are painstakingly and expensively rendered in CGI, and their earliest appearances are fairly impressive. Like those nightmarish ogres from Goya's etchings, they plunge about making the earth shake, pick up humans, bite their heads off and throw the rest away. But the characterisation is weak, and a subplot involving an internal power struggle among the monsters doesn't really work.

There seems to be a law that all ogres, orcs, goblins and giants must speak like East End morons: in Jack the Giant Killer most of them do, but a two-headed leader is a curious exception.

Fallon (voiced by Bill Nighy) looks like he suffers from wind and speaks in the grand, sinister tones of a Northern Irish preacher. He seems a joyless pessimist, and if I were a giant I'd look elsewhere for inspiration.

In fact, this whole film is curiously joyless, and for all its technical achievements, seems forced, and dull. None of the jokes quite come off, Hoult is uncharacteristically drippy in the lead role, and Tucci's villain lacks colour, and verve. It's all a bit of a bore really, and another damp squib for Singer.

Since showing spectacular promise with his acclaimed 1995 neo-noir The Usual Suspects, Singer has inexplicably disappeared into superhero yarns and big-budget action films.

This unwieldy and mismanaged fantasy is dumber than most, lacks heart and is unlikely to break any box office records.

Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane

Irish Independent

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