Updated Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 12:31 PM
If the Titanic had a beanstalk, it would look like the one in “Jack the Giant Slayer”: lushly green and utterly enormous, bursting through the floor like a flock of angry eels; shooting skyward and rightward and leftward in ever-thickening tendrils, leaving the watcher thinking, wow, that is a pretty big beanstalk. And that’s the problem with Bryan Singer’s movie: It’s stuck in a big-budget-movie middle ground — not quite thrilling enough to be an action movie, not quite funny enough for a comedy — and, once you’ve pondered the impressive size of the beanstalk, there’s not much else there.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” based on the familiar fairy tale of the boy and the magic beans, had the potential to be more memorable. Much of the casting is impeccable: Stanley Tucci as a foppish villain; Ian McShane as the king; Ewan McGregor as the loyal knight Elmont; the likable Nicholas Hoult as Jack, a farm boy who harbors a secret crush on Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). As luck would have it, she’s up for a little adventure — but thanks to those magic beans, Isabelle’s soon whooshed away from the medieval town of Cloister to a strange new world somewhere up in the sky. This place is populated by rather nasty giants (one of whom seems to be walking around with Shrek popping out of his shoulder) who’d kind of like to get down to Cloister and claim things for their own. Jack, Elmont and the gang head up the beanstalk to rescue Isabelle, but if you think those giants are going to stay on their own turf, you haven’t seen many action movies.
The special effects (viewed in 3D; it’s also being released in 2D and 3D IMAX) are well-crafted and occasionally breathtaking, particularly a few brief underwater scenes. The giants stomp around menacingly, crunching their feet on piles of skulls and showing off close-ups of their gruesome teeth and glinting eyes, and it’s almost magical to see them pick up the suddenly tiny human characters, dangling like mice in a lion’s paw. You wonder, though, who all this bravado is for: “Jack the Giant Slayer” is too frightening for young children (really, those giants are nasty, and a very cute lamb meets an awful fate), yet its fairy-tale setting makes it a tricky fit for older audiences. (It’s rated PG-13, for the record.)
The screenplay doesn’t seem to know what or who to focus on: Tucci, in particular, gets too little screen time, and McGregor’s reduced to being a sort of nicely coifed second-string hero who skulks around saying things like “Something happened here.” But the talented cast keeps things watchable, as do a few randomly goofy moments (I enjoyed Isabelle’s unexpectedly stylish armor) and “Jack the Giant Slayer” eventually emerges as a just-good-enough diversion. Hell of a beanstalk, though.
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“Jack the Giant Slayer,” with Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor. Directed by Bryan Singer, from a screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. Several theaters (in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX).