‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:36 am,

Jack the Giant Slayer Nicholas Hoult Jack the Giant Slayer Review

Jack the Giant Slayer is an entertaining tale that successfully balances the straightforward but imaginative storytelling of its source material with big-screen action and CGI effects.

Bryan Singer’s latest film, Jack the Giant Slayer (based on the Jack the Giant Killer folktale), joins a steadily growing list of movies that seek to offer alternate tellings of familiar fairy tales, historical figures, or mythological beings. These films rebrand one-dimensional childhood heroes and villains as complicated and multifaceted personalities – locked in a complicated and epic struggle that has been forgotten with time (or intentionally covered up). After all, history is written by the victors.

In this case, moviegoers set out on an adventure with Jack (also of Jack and the Beanstalk fame) – who, in this version, is tasked with rescuing a princess as well as foiling an evil plot that would allow giants to wipe out humankind. Unlike similar tongue-in-cheek offerings, however, Singer is in on the joke and as a result Jack the Giant Slayer does not take itself very seriously. However, does the fan-favorite director present a satisfying combination of whimsy along with visual spectacle to make the film enjoyable for mainstream audiences expecting epic storytelling – not just moviegoers who thrive on campy fairy tale adaptations?

Fortunately, Jack the Giant Slayer delivers an enchanting (albeit sometimes excessive) adventure. The twists and turns of the plot rarely surprise and mainline characters are killed-off without fanfare, but Singer offers enough comical character moments and entertaining action beats to make the film worthwhile – at least for moviegoers who recognize Giant Slayer‘s intentions. In an industry where photo-realistic CGI and gritty drama are becoming the norm, Singer’s fairy tale adaptation is a welcome change of pace – in spite of several obvious flaws that muddle the overall effort. Without question, Jack the Giant Slayer is easy to pick apart – and, for that reason, may be underwhelming to moviegoers that want a more serious adventure tale. However, for better and for worse, the movie embraces the wide-eyed ridiculousness of fabled adventuring – presenting a shallow but harmless moviegoing experience.

Jack the Giant Slayer Ewan McGregor Elmont Jack the Giant Slayer Review

Ewan McGregor as Elmont in ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

Singer’s adaptation follows heroic farm boy, Jack (Nicholas Hoult), who gets pulled into an epic journey up the beanstalk of childhood lore – to a land of imprisoned (and human-eating) giants. After a pouch of magic beans is lifted from advisor to the king, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), it is entrusted to Jack’s possession. However, before Jack can return the beans to their rightful owners, Queen-to-be Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) ends up on his door – distracting the farm boy from realizing that one of the magic beans is not only missing, it has taken root under his house. Exploding into the sky, the beanstalk carries Isabelle away and it is up to Jack along with the heroic Knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to rescue her from the giants. Seizing the opportunity to journey up the beanstalk, Roderick joins the quest – shielding his true (malevolent) intentions from the heroes.

The Jack the Giant Slayer story is exceptionally thin – with very little value beyond the core A to B plot progression and the enjoyable character interactions that make it anything but a lighthearted twist on an well-known fairy tale. Yet, at times, the narrative seems to suggest richer ideas were once in play – only to entirely abandon them in the final film. Exploring the notion that history is written by victors, lines of dialogue suggest that humanity might not be entirely innocent and that earlier (bloody) encounters with medieval adventurers could have led to the rage and anger in the giant race. Regrettably, these thematic ideas are fleeting – glossed over for only a moment or two before the giants are relegated to heartless creatures hell-bent on mindless death and destruction.

Fortunately, playful performances from the entire cast create an engaging series of events – despite the flimsy and muddled story. Even though most audience members will predict the main character arcs, Singer is still successful in making the actual journey captivating.

Jack the Giant Slayer Nicholas Hoult Eleanor Tomlinson Jack the Giant Slayer Review

Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson in ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

Hoult (X-Men: First Class and Warm Bodies) delivers in another charming role as the titular Giant Slayer and once again balances engaging emotion with intentionally awkward humor. Jack (the Giant Slayer) isn’t a typical muscle-bound hero – which comes as a relief after many other reimagined tales have tried to turn campy source characters into ruthless killing machines. Similarly, Tomlinson’s Isabelle walks a delicate balance between capable heroine and traditional damsel in distress – resulting in a character that serves the core story (about a good natured boy becoming a heroic man) without relying on the usual princess cliches.

The supporting cast is rounded out with quality (albeit cheeky) performances, with equally amusing onscreen characters and action scenes. McGregor and Tucci are a match for the whimsical tone of the film, reveling in satirical heroism and villainy, respectively. The pair spout one-liners and come close to winking at the camera, but their energy carries through the rest of the film, livening interactions and set pieces that, on the surface, would otherwise be very engaging.

Still, if there’s one element of Jack the Giant Slayer that will divide moviegoers, it’s the depiction and physical appearance of the CGI giants. Numerous aspects of the film are intentionally cartoonish, and the giants are no exception – they look like CGI creatures, not over-sized human beings. In certain scenes, the effect works to the benefit of the movie – reinforcing the fairy tale tone where photo-realistic visuals might actually have created an awkward disconnect. Still, the giants are rough-looking with noticeable lag between lines of dialogue and onscreen facial animations – making it hard to tell, from time to time, what emotion the audience is supposed to be reading from an all-digital face.

Jack the Giant Slayer Fallon Jack the Giant Slayer Review

Fallon voiced by John Kassir and Bill Nighy

Any attempt to make the characters more believable and emotive are further stifled by lowbrow body humor gags (i.e. boogers and farting)  - which are surprisingly juvenile for a thoughtful filmmaker like Singer – and don’t provide laughs or added tension to warrant inclusion. Ultimately, considering their screen time, the giants are par for the course and successfully advance the core plot – but instead of being nuanced and interesting characters, they are nothing more than adequate window dressing.

Singer filmed Jack the Giant Slayer in 3D and certain sequences do benefit from the added depth – especially when live-action humans and CGI giants share the screen. However, the premium ticket price is only going to be worthwhile for fans of the 3D format – since moviegoers on the 3D extremes (those who prefer subtle in-depth shots or, conversely, in-your-face 3D) won’t find too many memorable implementations of the format this time. It’s a genuine missed opportunity, given the film’s varying scale and environments.

Jack the Giant Slayer is an entertaining tale that successfully balances the straightforward but imaginative storytelling of its source material with big-screen action and CGI effects. In spite of flat characters, a predictable story, and some awkward visuals, the movie is surprisingly entertaining – thanks to a hefty dose of well-timed humor and energetic performances. Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t a thought-provoking re-imagining, but considering the number of fart jokes, it’s pretty obvious Bryan Singer intentionally sacrificed depth for entertainment value at every turn. In this case, the gamble pays off in a brainless but engaging story book adventure.

If you’re still on the fence about Jack the Giant Slayer, check out the trailer below:

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Jack the Giant Slayer runs 114 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Jack the Giant Slayer episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Great review – I want to see this! Although, why did they change it from “Jack the Giant Killer” to “Jack the Giant Slayer”? It doesn’t seem to make sense, since killer and slayer mean the same thing.

    • I would slayer has less….. dark over tones. Criminals are labeled “killers”

      Being labeled a killer implies a darker (evil??) intention from the individual.

      • Agreed.

        “Killer” is usually thought of with a negative slant. A person who seeks out and kills people for their own gain.

        “Slayer,” especially in this medieval setting, is a little more redeeming. Like, Jack is slaying evil monsters.

        In this context, the giants are killers – so Jack is forced to slay them.

        • plus like you said in the review Jack isn’t the cliche action movie bada** as a title like “killer” would suggest. Its in keeping with the material that he’s called a “slayer” which for some reason sounds less violent.

    • The word you are all looking for is “connotation.”

  2. I’ll be waiting to rent in DVD by the sounds of things

    • Go see it in 3D! I typically hate 3D films because the 3D glasses make everything darker. But this film is quite bright in and colorful – making the 3D experience worth it. I really enjoyed the movie.

  3. Warner Bros. financed this movie for $185 million without certainty about its intended audience; withheld the film’s release for 9 months to sharpen (re: focus) both the film and its advertising campaigne. The review suggests what we’re seeing is a compromise on the part of a deft director, a movie still schizophrenic (or bi-polar) and a tad confused as what marketshare the studio intends to get a slice of–adults who want depth or children who want it simple.

    The cost of production plus marketing put the nut at around $200 million to recoup at the box office…and still this uncertainty. It’s a hurdle.

    Without a firm hand on the helm (of, say, a Christopher Nolan) the WB seems to be at sea.

  4. CGI looks bad. :( Not good enough for a 2013 flick.
    Anyway, thanks for the great review !

    • Cheers! Glad it was helpful.

      • Most convincing CGI since its advent is Peter Jackson’s KING KONG; absolutely, you believe (with the added ingredient of Andy Serkis) that Kong is real.

  5. I’ll be going to the movies to check this out, don’t let a review stop you, make up your own mind.

    • I read reviews to inform myself not to indoctrinate myself. If I really want to see a movie I’ll see it regardless of what others think. After wasting 11 bucks to see Die Hard 5 in imax I’m thinking I should have listened to the critics haha

      • I should change the word indoctrinate to brain-wash.. thats what I was trying to say.

        • Die Hard 5 was so unnecessary.

          • dude..r u like the surfer or something?

    • Not sure what the disconnect is here. Did you read the review? I’d say it’s pretty favorable.

      Giant Slayer is definitely not a MUST SEE film – but I think we gave it a pretty fair shake and overall were recommending it to people.

    • Thanks Norrin,exactly how it should be ! :)

  6. 3/5? hmm… well thats better than i thought based on the trailers and last i check it was getting ok reviews on RT. So i might check this one out on DVD. Thanks for the review as always!

    • So far, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 2.5/5 with 54 for and 54 against. The reviews are very similar to what Ben said above.

      • yeah last time i checked there were only 39 reviews total so i knew it wouldnt be a very accurate assessment until more reviews were put up. I usually pay attention to RT, Screenrant, and IMDB to see if i want to watch a movie that i am on the fence about.

  7. I thought it was held back because of the post 3d conversion?

    • Nope. It was bumped to improve the CGI visuals and to move it away from The Hobbit.

  8. “presenting a shallow but harmless moviegoing experience.”
    Yea…I see BS has not really grown as a director since X-men 1 &3, and Superman Returns. In hindsight, those were all shallow and harmless. I really hope he does something special with XM:FC 2, but I have no faith in this guy.

    • It depends on what you call grown, you can’t consistantly make better films all the time. I am part of the select people who say Tarintino hasn’t grown, he has more stayed in his comfort zone since as long as I can remember. As for Singer I am unsure, he has grown more ambitious and has tried to fit in with the CGI and Technology that has emerged since his first X men film. He is a solid director nothing more nothing less

    • Singer directed X-Men 1 and 2,Brett Ratner did 3.

      Either way,I’m not a fan of Singer’s comic book movie work.I like his regular movies like The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie,but it just seems like he has no grasp of what makes comic book characters,and the stories that they are involved in work.

  9. just got done watching this and really enjoyed it. going to get this when it comes out

  10. Haven’t seen it yet, but it looks entertaining. I will watch it when available on Netflix. In the meantime, did anyone notice in the one picture up above that one of the giants looks like Capt. Picard from STNG?

  11. This movie was way better than it looks, I recommend it.

    • whoops i mean 3.5/5.

  12. Great review, mate. I can’t stand alot of these reviewers who dislike films like Jack the Giant Slayer because it’s shallow and lacks character depth. You review it for what it is. Just saw it, and it did serve its purpose of being entertaining, along with a good script, or at least not awful, amateurish writing like the last film I saw (A Good Day to Die Hard). Good stuff.

  13. Would like to take the kids to see it, but it’s hard to justify the price of tickets nowadays. Unfortunately, I’ll wait until video.

    Thanks for the review, though.

  14. Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the influence of a “Princess Bride.”

    Solely going by the trailer, it seems to need that gentle acerbity and darkness about the edges (and, rarely, front and center) that made PB so enjoyable. Will tell when the video comes out.

  15. I saw this Thursday night. I went bcuz I’m a huge fan of Obi-Wan, and Hoult was great in “A Single Man”.
    Review’s spot on [as always]. It’s not a terrible movie, and it’s surprisingly entertaining. I cringed at the nose picking & farting “jokes”, but they weren’t so frequent as to destroy the movie-going experience. Fairly predictable plot, but thank goodness for Stanley Tucci’s character. He’s sinister, but I laughed out loud at a few of his scenes. unexpected appearance by Eddie Marsan too. Hopefully it will have legs, but that seems unlikely as “must-see” movies are coming up each weekend leading up to GI Joe the last week of March, shortly after which, the summer onslaught begins. [Thankfully]

  16. I really enjoyed this and I am NOT a fan of most fairy tales-turned-spectacles (like tLotRings). I took my son and was prepared to snooze. Was very pleasantly surprised by the great acting, the sly humor, the scary giants yes the cgi was obvious and a bit clunky but this is a fairy tale), and the apparent simplicity of story that wasn’t really that simple. I was so glad they didn’t overdo the special effects that has ruined others like this – like Prince Caspian. There was drama and thrills, enchantment and humor, and more, in just the right doses imho. But really the believable acting really produced something better than PB, again imho. Including that great scene at the end where the giants and the knights are facing off and the giant (Fumm?) had just the slightest expression in face and body of resignation when he sees (but we don’t yet) jack with the crown and Fumm has to once again lower his hulking frame to the ground in subservience to a tiny human. And McEwen says ‘There’s something behind me isn’t there/’ Hilarious, triumphant, poignant.
    I’m a snob of a picky old curmudgeon when it comes to movies and i loved this one.

  17. On the basis of the comments, I went to see this. It was better than Oz, #1. It was fun and thrilling, #2. I thought Ian Mcshane was miscast, #3.

    This was a fun movie!


  18. We saw this on Friday and although it was entertaining I could have waited for the DVD on this one. It’s not one of those movies that just gets you excited to see it again after(The Avengers, TASM, TDK). For me it’s about a 2.5/5. It’s an okay movie but not good to go pay money to see it at the big screen

  19. It’s a decently fun movie with plenty of humor and some entertaining visuals. I liked Ewan McGregor’s character, and the giants were amusing. However, the plot didn’t really hold my attention and it’s not something I’d want to see again. I say skip it unless you have kids between the ages of 8 and 15, or wait and rent the DVD. It’s not painful, but it’s definitely not a must-see.

  20. Idont like it!

  21. I just saw Jack the giant slayer with my family and I thought that this was an awesome movie.There were a lot of twists and turns and surprises.I loved this movie and so did my family!

  22. Because the owners of the 1960′s “Jack, the Giant Killer” asked them to change the title.