You can see the business logic behind a movie like “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Take a familiar fairy tale (one that’s in the public domain so you don’t have to pay anybody’s estate), flesh out the backstory, find a way to give it an epic-sized climactic battle, and slap it up on the big screen in 3D. Even if it’s not particularly good — and “Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t — it’ll draw enough of a crowd to make it worth your while.
The business decisions behind this jolly CGI-laden confection are more evident than the creative ones, but it’s not a wholly cynical enterprise. It was directed by Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “Superman Returns”), a purveyor of enjoyable fluff who strives to deliver popular entertainment that isn’t too dumb. “Jack the Giant Slayer” is by far his silliest film, and it’s hindered by a screenplay (credited to three writers) that seems to actively avoid giving the main characters any personality. But when it really gets going, and especially in the last 30 minutes, it’s passable as matinee fodder.
In this version, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is an orphaned peasant who yearns for adventure. So does the kingdom’s fair princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Jack is restricted by his poverty and social class; Isabelle is limited by the usual over-protective rules placed upon royalty in fairy tales. (Her loving father, the king, is played by Ian McShane — not someone you want to disobey.) When the magic beans come into Jack’s possession and a beanstalk is produced, Isabelle gets stuck in the giants’ world. The king sends his army, led by Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor), up the stalk to rescue her, accompanied by fearless young Jack.
To add some perfidy to the story, there is Stanley Tucci as Roderick, the king’s power-hungry adviser and the man to whom Isabelle’s hand in marriage has been promised. Roderick knows of an artifact that would enable him to rule the giants as their king, and he sees the quest to rescue Isabelle as his golden opportunity to try it out. Complications ensue, and there is a battle between the race of men and the race of giants.
Tucci, McGregor, and McShane are all in fine form, giving robust performances as characters who hardly deserve such attention. They add sparkle. Jack and Isabelle are blank slates, though: likable enough, as far as that goes, but completely uninteresting as protagonists. Hoult had more chemistry with his co-star in “Warm Bodies,” in which he played a zombie. And it doesn’t help that Isabelle, supposedly an adventure seeker, proves to be a disappointingly typical damsel-in-distress type.
I’ve heard people compare “Jack the Giant Slayer” to last year’s “John Carter,” in terms of budget and scope as well as entertainment value. That feels about right to me. Neither film is “bad,” but neither film is really necessary or memorable, either. “Jack” passes the time. Whether that’s worth paying money for is up to you.
C+ (1 hr., 54 min.; )