Hollywood’s latest attempt to reinvent the fairy tale, Warner Brothers’ Jack the Giant Slayer, steers clear of subversive interpretation but does not whitewash the violence implied by the rhyme “fe, fi, fo, fum/I smell the blood of an Englishman/Be he living, or be he dead/I’ll grind his bones to mix my bread.”
Director Bryan Singer is adept at grounding fantastic characters in a believable reality. His PG-13 film includes humor and a shifting point-of-view to build a medieval world with a history of giants who exist “between heaven and earth” that has faded from fact to myth.
Singer’s effort is helped by a stellar cast, in particular the always relatable Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci as a human villain, Ian McShane as the king, and Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson in what could be breakout roles as Jack and Princess Isabelle.
Parents will appreciate the strong familial bonds and respect for elders shown by these two young heroes. Jack and Isabelle go “looking for an adventure,” but they are polite and honorable rather than rebellious and angry.
They also confront life-or-death stakes. The giants eat men and sheep alive. The human villains torture a monk. And in another death scene, a giant’s CGI eyeball pops out. The violence is mostly implied and no blood is shown, but there is clear peril involved.
Sadly, the story resolves in an epic battle, the ending of which is easy to guess, that drags on with very little of the character development or world-building seen earlier in the movie.
Singer also hints at, then discards, an interesting parallel between the story of a magical Beanstalk originally grown by monks in an attempt to “find God” and the Tower of Babel. The monks at first appearing important but ultimately unnecessary to a movie about forbidden love and giant slaying.