Nicholas Hoult plays Jack, a humble peasant who ventures into town to sell his horse to make some petty cash. However when he is instead given a handful of beans from an agitated monk, he returns home rather sheepishly, despite his chance encounter with the beautiful princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who he protects from a group of loutish locals. Isabelle decides to visit Jack and thank him, yet when a rainstorm begins and the discarded beans turn into a gigantic beanstalk, the princess – stuck in Jacks’s elevated home – reluctantly goes up with it.
King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) sends a pack of his trustworthy henchmen – including Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and Roderick (Stanley Tucci) – along with Jack to climb the beanstalk and save the princess, yet little do they know that the fables are all correct, and at the top of the beanstalk, above the clouds, is a land of giants – led by the evil General Fallon (Bill Nighy) – who plan on returning back to land to regain power, as the stalk becomes a gateway between the two worlds. Meanwhile, Jack is not only fighting for his life and well-being of the land, but also for the love of the princess.
Despite hailing from the US, Singer manages to fully encapsulate English sensibilities, staying true to the original fairytale, which is rich in British heritage – certainly an achievement to pull this off given it’s within the format of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s not just because the majority of the cast are from Britain, but there is something wonderfully paltry about our lead Jack, who represents the everyman thrown into a dangerous new world, with potentially auspicious repercussions. Of course we are helped along by a great cast, with Tucci standing out in particular as the conniving and imbecilic Roderick. Hoult, on the other hand, does little to offend, yet just hasn’t quite got that star quality and notable personality to carry such an immense fantasy movie.
The greatest performances of all, in a sense, are computer animated, as much of the enjoyment from this picture derives from the giants. Although presented in somewhat questionable special effects, in order to fully get to grips with this tale a lot hinges on the consternation induced by the villains, and they are genuinely threatening, appearing as an infallible force that won’t be beaten. In a way they bear a resemblance to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, particularly evident in the heart-pounding scene when a full-blown chase takes place between the giants and the king’s men on their horses. That said, the most dominant of all giants is the two-headed leader General Fallon, yet he bears the unfortunate burden of having a smaller head that looks rather like Mr. Bean’s interpretation of Whistler’s Mother.
The one major criticism to be made is certainly in regards to the CGI, which is somewhat basic and unfortunately detracts slightly from the overall threat of the antagonists, but this aside, Singer should be commended for bringing this fairytale to life triumphantly, enlarging it for the cinema screen, and adding that epic quality a film such as this requires.