Jack the Giant Slayer is a stalker movie - in more ways than one.
There is the titular hero (Nicholas Hoult), a lowly tenant farmer who eyeballs a beautiful girl slumming her way through a medieval village, and doesn't seem to want to let her go. Turns out she's a princess by the name of Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). And it turns out she's about to be abducted by a race of people-eating behemoths, whose leader, it can be said, has a head on his shoulders. He also has a head attached to his neck. Yes, he is a two-headed giant (voiced by Bill Nighy and John Kassir).
And then, of course, there is that other stalk: the one that spirals upward into the sky, a botanical mutation that, thanks to a handful of magic beans, links Earth with the aforementioned ogre-ish freakazoids. Fee, fi, fo, fum - their olfactory senses are working overtime. And when Jack, our teenage hero, comes along to rescue Isabelle, squads of visual-effects artists are at the ready. Spittle and drool the size of tsunamis! Nostril hairs like garden hoses!
Directed by Bryan Singer, taking a break from his usual subjects (the X-Men), Jack the Giant Slayer tweaks the old fairy tale, interlocking the fates of the serfer dude and the royal lass from the get-go, with a back-and-forth prologue in which the 8-year-old Jack and Isabelle are being read a bedtime story by their respective dad and mum.
Yes, it's that story.
But "it's only a story," Jack's father assures him. "Giants aren't real."
Ha! Tell that to Ewan McGregor, who plays Elmont, the princess' guardian knight, who finds himself being rolled in dough and about to be cooked up as a tasty hors d'oeuvre by a 30-foot-tall chef. (Giant Chefs - coming to the Food Network soon.)
With TV's Once Upon a Time, and with Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen reboots coming from the studios on a monthly basis, one could ask whether another big-screen fairy tale is necessary. While I can't really answer that question (it keeps a lot of people employed, it gives McGregor the chance to bellow "Archers to the parapets!", and it might inspire a kid or two to pick up a book), Singer's take on ye olde yarne has wit about it, and it certainly looks good.
Peter Jackson devotees may not like to hear this, but Jack the Giant Slayer is far more accomplished, visually speaking, than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Snooze, I mean, Journey. When the giants bungee jump from on high and launch an attack on the king's (Ian McShane) castle, they hurl huge burning trees over the walls, they crush fleeing soldiers beneath their fallen arches, they flick horseback riders to the horizon with their pinky fingers. It's impressive.
Hoult is suitably stalwart as Jack, although attempts at devil-may-care levity don't exactly have an Errol Flynn zing. Tomlinson's Isabelle isn't quite the helpless damsel in distress of earlier, less-enlightened times, but she's not the butt-kicking warrior that Kristen Stewart proved to be in Snow White and the Huntsman, either.
And straight from central casting, Stanley Tucci dons a hairpiece and a smirk as Roderick, the king's trusted adviser, who, of course, turns out to be utterly villainous. Irony of ironies, the king wants Isabelle to marry this man, too.
Jack the stalker will have none of that.
Jack the Giant Slayer **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Bryan Singer. With Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (slobbering ogres, scares, violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.