Nicholas Hoult battles behemoths in “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Today’s dominant blockbuster trend involves taking a beloved pop culture item and turning it into brooding, humorless pomp. Ours is an era in which not even “Snow White” can be fun. With such a literally sad state of affairs, it’s easy to overrate “Jack the Giant Slayer” for not featuring a hero who, say, holds back tears as he ascends a beanstalk against a booming Hans Zimmer score, all the while questioning who’s the real monster: the homicidal colossus hoping to stomp on humans or, you know, him?
Of course, the other extreme is even less palatable. The flip side to last year’s relentlessly dour “Snow White and the Huntsman” was the unwatchably arch (if gorgeous) “Mirror Mirror.” “Jack the Giant Slayer,” semi-inexplicably helmed by “X-Men” maven Bryan Singer, falls somewhere in the middle, albeit closer to the latter: silly without being obnoxious, light without being entirely inconsequential.
Melding two separate English folk tales about a guy named Jack — the one about a beanstalk and the less cherished “Jack the Giant Killer” — the film features not a lad but a Y.A. Jack (Nicholas Hoult, once the boy in “About a Boy,” of late an emo zombie in “Warm Bodies”), and instead of one giant and a golden egg, there’s a bunch of giants and no golden egg. But there is an Xtreme beanstalk.
It’s a funny feeling knowing that a mega-budgeted romp based on a slender folk tale seeks only to entertain. But don’t go nuts. There’s such a thing as being too light, and apart from some belated stampeding giant action, this “Jack” is forgettable, each moment out of the mind the instant it’s passed, and lacking in the Spielbergian set pieces for which it so clearly cries out. It’s wonderful that Jack isn’t an agonized depresso, but he winds up with no personality while the requisite parade of overqualified Brits and Scots — Ewan McGregor as a taciturn swordsman, Ian McShane as the king — strut about, underutilized.
“Jack”’s goals are noble: it’s been a while since a good old fashioned — and authentically gory — folk tale made the rounds. Singer’s film periodically meets those needs, with behemoths occasionally biting into human heads like one would a carrot. Such violence is tastefully elided by cuts, but even a partly failed and sanitized fairy tale is preferable to the next gloomy comic book picture about a sad, caped alien who can fly.