The fractured fairy tale “Jack the Giant Slayer” may be the perfect example of a “popcorn movie” — because, like popcorn, it is fluffy and inconsequential, and you’ll probably forget you consumed it a day later.
The movie does represent the second volley in this season’s charm offensive for young actor Nicholas Hoult, who starred as a zombie in February’s horror rom-com “Warm Bodies” and here plays the title role. Hoult is a handsome and adroit actor, but he’s going to have to find roles that have more life to them — and Jack’s even less interesting than the zombie.
Jack is a poor orphaned farm lad in this unspecified medieval setting (only in the movie’s punchline of an epilogue is the country ever named), who grew up on legends of a land of giants far above us mortals. Another teen who grew up on those same stories is Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the spunky princess of this kingdom — who bristles that her father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), has betrothed her to the creepy Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci).
For Roderick, marrying Isabelle is a backup plan toward power. His main goal is to find the mythical giants and, using an ancient crown worn by Brahmwell’s ancestor King Erik, order the giants to dominate the humans below. When a monk (Simon Lowe) tries to thwart Roderick’s plan, he tries to escape by stealing Jack’s horse — and leaving behind some magic beans.
The beans, of course, grow into a massive beanstalk — which carries off Jack’s modest home with Isabelle inside. (How Isabelle gets to Jack’s house is less interesting than it should have been.) The King orders the captain of his guards, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), to take his men up the beanstalk, and Roderick and Jack join the expedition. Between Roderick’s treachery and the nastiness of the giants (the biggest of them voiced by Bill Nighy), the party gets rather small, until it’s just Jack and Elmont available to save Isabelle and the kingdom.
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “The Usual Suspects”) marshals the visual-effects well, creating an army of grotesque computer-generated beasts that would be at home in Peter Jackson’s version of Middle-Earth. Singer also strikes a good tonal balance for this fairy-tale revision, occupying the Goldilocks zone of “just right” between the weirdly silly “Mirror Mirror” and the deathly serious “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
Where “Jack the Giant Slayer” falls down with a thud is in the screenplay, a tag-team effort credited to four writers including Singer’s “Usual Suspects” cohort, Christopher McQuarrie. It is heavy on action sequences but depressingly light on developing characters with any dimension. The cast tries to fill in the blanks, with McGregor and Tucci doing a fair approximation of Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash — while Tomlinson looks pretty and Hoult struggles with an underdeveloped hero. If ever a character needed a dose of the blood of an Englishman, it’s Jack.
‘Jack the Giant Slayer’
This effects-heavy fairy tale’s weak script is a fee-fi-fo-fumble.
Where • Opens today.
When • Theaters everywhere.
Rating • PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language.
Running time • 114 minutes.