It looks like a blockbuster. It feels like a blockbuster. On the set, it probably even smelled like a blockbuster.
But for long stretches, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is an awful lot of fee, fi, ho-hum.
Director Bryan Singer’s lavishly reimagined fairy tale focuses on the intertwined lives of farmboy Jack (Nicholas Hoult, “Warm Bodies”) and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson, “Alice in Wonderland”).
Both were raised on bedtime stories of the giants who once ruled the medieval hamlet of Cloister and how they were conquered by Erik the Great. The only difference being that Isabelle is a descendant of that legendary ruler.
During a trip into town to sell his beloved horse — cows are so passe — Jack encounters a monk desperate to escape after having stolen from the king’s adviser, Roderick (Stanley Tucci). The monk needs Jack’s horse to make his getaway, but, being a monk, he’s a little light in the wallet. So he hands Jack some magic beans — a “holy relic,” he calls them — as collateral.
They come with the Mogwai-style warning: “Whatever you do, don’t get them wet.” The beans, though, are just being kept in a leather pouch. You’d really think everyone involved would take better precautions than that.
Anyway, Izzy is in the middle of one of those I’m-going-to-prove-my-independence horse rides that movie princesses are so fond of these days, when a storm hits and she seeks shelter in Jack’s farmhouse.
In the middle of some timid flirting, a little water hits one of the seeds and — presto! — instant beanstalk. It doesn’t just grow, though. It bursts forth from the ground like some multitentacled beast that, decades ago, would have been the mortal enemy of Godzilla.
The beanstalk carries the farmhouse, Izzy and all, into the sky to Gantua, the land of the giants. The smitten Jack, despite being “not wildly keen on heights,” joins a rescue expedition sent by the king (Ian McShane) in hot pursuit.
The visuals are first-rate, and the action set pieces are perfectly adequate. Some even border on rousing. They’re just missing that little something extra — that sense of awe or surprise, that derring-do, that razzle-dazzle — that would help “Jack the Giant Slayer” transcend into the realm of the spectacular.
Still, as popcorn entertainment goes, it’s expertly cast.
Hoult, the odd-looking, round-faced kid from “About a Boy” who went away for a bit and returned a fully formed leading man, has a very bright future.
Tomlinson’s Isabelle looks so ethereal at times, you’d swear she’d been motion-captured. (Bill Nighy was motion-captured for his role as General Fallon, the leader of the giants who has a smaller, Gollum-like head growing out of his shoulder, and Fallon still feels more down-to-earth. So to speak.)
The treacherous Roderick, who’s betrothed to Isabel against her wishes, is right in Tucci’s dastardly wheelhouse.
And, as Elmont, the king’s most-trusted knight, Ewan McGregor is a delight, carrying himself like an old-Hollywood swashbuckler. I’d pay money to see him in “The Errol Flynn Story.”
For now, though, he’s in “Jack the Giant Slayer.” And, despite having three credited writers — Christopher McQuarrie who wrote Singer’s “The Usual Suspects,” Darren Lemke and Dan Studney — and having been delayed from its original June 2012 opening, the movie still doesn’t feel like it’s where it should be. Like the knight-in-a-blanket Elmont finds himself in inside a giant’s oven, it doesn’t feel fully baked.
Sure, there are giant-sized boogers and farts for the kiddies.
But you want it to be better than it is.
As it stands, “Jack the Giant Slayer” amounts to more than a hill of beans. But only just so.
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Christopher Lawrence is the film critic for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.