The most striking thing about “Jack the Giant Slayer” is how utterly unmemorable it is. In an already crowded forest of dull, formulaic, early-year films, “Jack’s” commitment to formulized blandness stands out like, well, a skyscraper-sized beanstalk.
This version of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” has everything you would want in a big-budget fantasy: romance, action, adventure, traitorous villains and noble heroes. Everything, that is, except the smallest hint of anything resembling an actual personality.
Instead, there’s a parade of familiar situations and character types. There’s Jack (Nicholas Hoult), the young man who discovers his inner strength after a long journey, and Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the young woman whose attention he craves. There’s a horde of fearsome giants in the sky, a medieval castle ripe for invasion, and a hidden world in the clouds. There’s a sympathetic rogue knight (Ewan McGregor), a kindhearted king (Ian McShane) and a dastardly adviser to the crown (Stanley Tucci). And there’s nothing remotely interesting about any of them.
The problems start with the movie’s hero, Jack, who has all the personality of a department store mannequin. Mr. Hoult, who is generically attractive and likable in the way of second-string high school football player, doesn’t add much, but it’s not really his fault.
No, most of the blame goes to the screenplay, by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney, which makes Jack a purely functional creation. He serves no purpose of his own, and aside from an occasionally mentioned fear of heights has no noticeable quirks or obviously identifiable human qualities. Jack is less of a person than a walking, talking screenplay widget who assists with the functioning of the story’s various gears and axles.
Sadly, Jack isn’t the worst of it. At least he has a goal: to get the girl and save his world. The same can’t be said for Isabelle, the young princess whose heart Jack wants to win. Isabelle carries on Hollywood’s not-so-proud tradition of female co-stars who exist exclusively to serve as the male hero’s prize. Isabelle is bait and nothing else.
Even the supporting roles fail to escape the script’s gravitational blandness: Ian McShane, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci all show up to move the plot along, but even these reliable scene-stealers can’t command any attention.
The same goes for the action and effects. Director Bryan Singer choreographs a couple of should-be-spectacular sequences, including a castle-wall showdown involving a legion of angry giants hurling flaming, full-sized trees. Yet he never manages to convey a meaningful sense of scale or stakes: It’s hard to care about who lives or dies when the characters are all blanks.
A similar emptiness plagues the movie’s look: Mr. Singer’s overreliance on just-OK computer graphics to create the movie’s sets robs the movie of any sense of physical weight or presence — there really isn’t any there there.
Despite all this, it’s hard to hate a movie as inoffensive as this. I found myself nodding along with Jack when he described his mild fear of heights by saying, “I’m not afraid. Just not wildly keen.” I didn’t despise “Jack the Giant Slayer.” But I was not wildly keen.
TITLE: “Jack the Giant Slayer”
CREDITS: Directed by Bryan Singer; screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes