The fairytale with a twist has become such a staple of the idea starved film making machine of late that it’s almost a cliché in itself to describe a film thusly, but that’s exactly what Bryan Singer’s latest film is, a fairytale we all know…with a twist. X-Man and Skins star Nicolas Hoult takes on the title role in this spin on the beanstalk and giants story.
Magic beans, beanstalk, giants; you know the set up. It’s not much different here. After a neat little animated prologue, outlining the history of the battle between giants and men, Jack meets a princess who before long finds herself in the land of the giants, via a handy beanstalk, and soon Jack as well as the king’s best men mount a rescue operation. Like the recent Oz: The Great and Powerful, the film holds little surprises, but it’s the execution that raises it above the rest. It’s directed and acted with a playful exuberance, and everyone involved knows exactly where the film is pitched and what tone it’s going for, so when both Ewan McGregor’s dashing knight, Elmont and Stanley Tucci’s boo-hissable villain, Roderick, ham up their scenes (and they do, frequently) it doesn’t feel out of place, like say, the majority of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters did.
But every fairytale needs a heroic protagonist, and Nicolas Hoult steps up to the leading man plate admirably, even if he isn’t quite in possession of the charisma needed for such a role, but he does have a way with a one liner (“Weren’t you in an oven an hour ago?”), and carries the film’s weight on his shoulders. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Ian McShane’s king, Eddie Marsan’s knight and Eleanor Tomlinson as Isabelle, the princess in question, of which only McShane leaves a lasting impression. Isabelle is as bland a character as you could imagine, only there to be captured and ultimately rescued.
But you don’t go to see this for the love story; you go for the giants. Thankfully they don’t disappoint with encounters both frightening and funny. They are by turns pleasingly disgusting and entertainingly silly, and despite some slightly dodgy CGI come off as a real threat thanks to great voice work from Bill Nighy as head giant, Fallon, and some surprisingly graphic acts of violence. Seriously, heads are bitten off with gleeful abandon (all off screen, this is a 12A after all, but still suitably unnerving for any younger viewers) and the giants are shown to be vicious as well as big and dumb. Oh, and they seem to all be Northern Irish for some reason. Make of that what you will.
And considering the rescue of the princess would ultimately be a little anti-climactic for a film of this ilk, the filmmakers have thrown in an aspect certainly not present in the fairytale. One that adds even more peril and excitement as well as an excuse to mount a Lord of the Rings type battle that brings us to a satisfying conclusion which ends the movie on a very clever wink wink nudge nudge to the audience.
A big budget pantomime and I mean that in the best possible way.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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