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Jack the Giant Slayer

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'Jack the Giant Slayer' can't stave off fairy-tale fatigue
Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies

If Bryan Singer's "Jack the Giant Slayer" had arrived in theaters in a more timely fashion, it would have handily beaten other seemingly similar fare (see: "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters") to the box-office punch, and perhaps also kept moviegoers from feeling "reimagined" fairy-tale fatigue. Singer has, after all, been working on the film since 2009, and though the eventually refined CGI effects often come off as silly and grotesque (seeing this one in IMAX or 3-D is not necessary in the slightest), an impressive cast and an action-packed second half make the film suited to anyone eager for an escapist fantasy outing.

Bing: More on 'Jack the Giant Slayer' | More about Nicholas Hoult

The eponymous Jack of Singer's film is played by rising star Nicholas Hoult, a poor farm boy in a medieval land who comes into possession of a bag of magic beans. The beans are the central prop in a local legend that holds that said sprouted beans once turned into massive beanstalks that stretched up to a midway point between heaven and earth that was populated by some really angry giants. Those giants came down to Earth but were ultimately wrangled by King Erik the Great, who crafted a crown from a giant heart that allowed him control of them -- including sending them back where they came. Most everyone has forgotten that legend now, except for young dreamer Jack and Erik's own descendent, pretty Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson).

After a series of mishaps, the beans sprout, the stalk grows, and Isabelle is carried away as the vines shoot up toward the giants' home, leaving a smitten Jack and a terrified royal court clamoring to climb the stalk and get her back. Among others, Jack is joined in his quest by royal guards Elmont (an excellent Ewan McGregor), Crawe (an underused Eddie Marsan) and a scheming Roderick (Stanley Tucci, having as much fun as we've come to expect from his work lately -- which is a lot). Climbing the stalk proves treacherous, but arriving in the land of the giants -- monstrous, malformed, CGI-crafted beasts -- is even more dangerous.
 
"Jack the Giant Slayer" struggles to find proper pacing and tone for its first half, bogged down by Singer's apparent eagerness to get up the stalk and into the action while also attempting to get his audience invested in a multitude of characters. It's all much better (and much more entertaining) once the herd has been thinned and we can focus on the characters and plots that are truly engaging. A PG-13 rated outing, "Jack" features some gruesome deaths for its victims, but cuts away from scenes before things get really messy. Strangely, the film also peppers in plenty of low-brow humor to keep the younger set giggling, though older moviegoers will likely balk at its occasional scatological humor.

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Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine, and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.

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