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IN SHORT: Very family friendly . . but I liked it, too <g>. [Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. 114 minutes]
Many readers of the crankycritic.com site are of parenting age. Even with all the radical changes in culture and parenting styles, or the lack thereof, the simple act of parental units reading fable stories to little kidlets at bedtime is one which goes back hundreds of years. When it was possible to keep a kid busy all day, fables were compressed, from pages and pages of text, to paragraphs with a lot of pictures illustrating the text. Soon the comic book stepped in and fable stories became something studied in college in texts called "The UNCENSORED Grimm's Fairy Tales!" Cranky still has his copy. Even worse, that censorious monster called Political Correctness slithered in under dark of night , forcing perfectly rounded pegs of story perfection in square holes of "how it's going to be now because we say so . . ."
And so "Jack the Giant-Killer" became Jack the Giant Slayer. Cranky grumbled. Cranky settled in, put the 3D glasses on and put his trust in director Bryan Singer, who had properly translated the X-Men from comic book to superstars of the big screen. As it turns out, it is trust well placed.
The basics of the fable remain: dumb farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult) still trades his horse for "magic beans." Those "magic beans" still sprout into a beanstalk that links earth with the heavens, where a dumb Giant live, hoarding his treasure. Jack still climbs the beanstalk and he will find the Treasure but, now that the story is a movie, Jack's motivation has changed.
Yep, there's a girl in the story now . . . . Cranky's inner child is throwing a hissy fit . . . . She is Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) and, unlike the poor commoner who gets his name in the title, Isabelle is a Princess of the Kingdom of Cloister. She is the sole heir to the throne of aging King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) and, since there's this cultural prejudice about women ruling kingdoms --- seriously, if you were to change the name to "Queendom" there would be anarchy in the East Village, but I digress. Isabelle likes to dress like commoners do and sneak out into the "real world," seeking her own kind of adventure.
So it begins that Once Upon A Time, Jack meets Isabelle on a rainy night. A tremendous amount of back story has been told during the opening credits so if this is where you enter the theater, you will be lost. Arrive early. We will only tell you once:
Earlier, when Jack disappointed his uncle by returning from a faire without horse nor cart nor ten coppers he was to have sold that pair for -- Jack has a pouch of magic beans given to him by a monk "as collateral" -- Uncle storms off. Jack is grounded. One magic bean has fallen through a crack in the hovel floor. There you have it. Rainy night. Isabelle takes shelter from the storm. All that rain causes the bean to sprout. Jack's house rises into the sky -- Jack, we have learned is a klutz and he falls out the door on to the ground -- taking the Princess with it. When all is said and done, the King sends his most trusted Knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Isabelle's fiance, [Roderick] (Stanley Tucci) up the vine, with the best soldiers of the Royal Guard and that lout farm boy Jack, who feels responsible for the whole mess.
From here on out, the film's story deviates radically from the tale we were told as a bedtime story in the last century ago. Brian Singer has his own horde of writers at hand to toss action and romance at the viewer at a speed that would be abusive to parents and just oh so right to the seen year olds those parents have left with their fellow little monsters up in the first row.
Parents . . . have no fear. There is plenty of killing in Jack the Giant Slayer but there is, for reasons that will become obvious, very little blood. Yes, our jaw did drop just a little as the monstrous giants -- they're all about twenty-five foot tall -- take their first bite of the long lost delicacy that is the human head; the row of eleven year olds behind us started giggling. So all is well.
We also want to send props to the writing team for planting the seeds of the Commoner versus Royalty conundrum that any G.E.D. wielding parent should be able to explain to the smallest child, assuming they understand the meaning of the word "conundrum." Jack the Giant Slayer is overstuffed with story and effects and a fast paced story which should make anyone happy.
Cranky, of course, isn't anyone. We found Jack the Giant Slayer to be overstuffed -- all in a good way, aimed to keep the single digit kidlets in the front happy. We would have been in the back, if the IMAX theater in which we saw the film had had an escalator to get us to the top rows (disabled legs can't climb stairs) but, even in the fourth row, there was way more than enough to keep us entertained. Being an old fart, Cranky would have liked just a bit of extra breathing room between thrills! and action! and forbidden-romance! (heck, even the five year olds will figure that one out all by themselves) -- but Jack the Giant Slayer is what it is . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Jack the Giant-Slayer, he would have paid . . .
and what it is Fun. Capital "f" Fun.
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