I was pleasantly surprised not to hate this movie, since I didn't know beans about it.
Oh, come on. Like I could possibly get through this review without puns.
Jack is far less of an ass in this version than he was in any of the fairytales I read growing up. You know the story: idiot boy trades cow for a handful of supposedly magic beans, which his mother/uncle/whoever angrily tosses out the window. A giant beanstalk grows, Jack climbs up and steals gold like mad from the giants who live in the sky. Then he escapes, and the giant comes back down to reclaim his rightful property, only to be murdered by the sinister Jack.
Well, that took a dark turn. The musical Into the Woods was a little kinder to Jack, but still left him a fairly doltish fellow with an unnatural fondness for cows. However, he has the best song in the show: "Giants in the Sky."
Jack is far less stupid this time, outright telling the monk (roh?) who gives him the beans that he's not an idiot. There's a standard-issue subplot with a princess engaged to Stanley Tucci (go with it) and her attempts to be a self-aware human being despite being a princess. (Plus three feminism points.) Naturally she runs away, naturally she gets caught up in the aforementioned bean issue, and naturally she ends up in the giant kingdom. See? Now it's a rescue mission (minus one feminism point), not an errant boy bent on burglary and stalking. (What? You didn't see that coming?)
Ensue the rescue mission into the sky, led by the real hero of the movie: a dashing Ewan McGregor, captain of the guard.
Let's just take a pause. Let's say I'm a lovely young princess constantly getting into trouble and being rescued by Ewan freaking McGregor in a goatee, and I don't have a crush on him? Not that Jack isn't a fine fellow, but I just met him and I've known Ewan for years, and he's dashing and brave and always there for me in a tough spot. No crush at all? I call bad writing.
So White-Hat McGregor leads the soldiers, helps Jack and (SPOILERS!) commands the best castle defense sequence I have ever seen in modern cinema. Seriously, somebody read a book on How Medieval Castles Withstood a Siege and applied every step. Terrific battle scene, far more interesting than some of the Lord of the Rings battles and won't that win me some hatred?
There's a lot of star power in the secondary cast. Besides McGregor, there is Ian McShane, who can't help but be awesome in everything he does. (Except POTC: On Stranger Tides, but discussing that would mean admitting that movie exists.) McShane is the king, and he is magnetically cool despite some of the silliest costumers in modern fairytale cinema. Stanley Tucci leaves a trail of slime after himself as the king's top adviser, and Bill Nighy returns to motion-capture as the two-headed leader of the giants.
Who, by the way, eat humans now.
This is probably the reason Jack the Giant Slayer failed so badly. It's a fairytale, and we've all forgotten that fairytales are pretty grimm. (I warned you.) There is a good bit of vicious violence in this movie, with humans being eaten in pretty disgusting ways and sometimes played for comedy. The giants are quite disgusting themselves; apparently all male, they grunt and eat boogers and are generally gross.
Sidebar: I am quietly annoyed that all the humans (read: good guys) have British accents, and all the giants (read: bad guys) have Scottish accents. I might be reading too much into it, but it was noticeable to me, a decidedly midwestern woman. I would be interested to hear what they think of this movie in the United Kingdom.
So it's a fairytale with a healthy action-adventure aspect to it. We need to let fairytales be fairytales. It doesn't need to be Lord of the Rings (with all its stupendous seriousness) and it doesn't need to be Pirates of the Caribbean (with all its smartass swashbuckling). It can just be a fairytale.
But in this modern era, we have tamed our fairytales to the point where we don't expect the evil to eat someone we like. Disney gets screamed at whenever something the slightest bit unpleasant happens in their movies, so they've learned to make fairytales inoffensive. That's not what they are, as the amputated toes of Cinderella's stepsisters should have warned us.
We can't blame Disney, either: watch the original Snow White sometime. The Evil Queen on her way out of the dungeon passes a skeleton that died reaching for an empty pot. "Thirsty?" she cackles, kicking the pot into the skeleton and smashing it into bones. "Have a drink!" Yowsa. You couldn't do that today, because we want our fairytales simple and charming, where no one dies but the giant dragon at the end.
That said, I wouldn't take an eight-year-old to Jack the Giant Slayer. That probably killed its chances at making back its enormous price tag. But my fourteen-year-old liked it just fine, and you know what? So did I. It was giant fun.
(Had to get one more in.)