A big-budget, effects-laden, 3-D retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk legend may seem like the unlikeliest pairing yet of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, but “Jack the Giant Slayer” ends up being smart, thrilling and a whole lot of fun.
Singer and McQuarrie’s collaborations include, most famously, the twisty crime mystery “The Usual Suspects” (which earned McQuarrie an original-screenplay Oscar) and the Hitler assassination drama “Valkyrie,” featuring an eye patch-wearing Tom Cruise.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is cheeky without being too obnoxiously cutesy. While the look of it is medieval, the vibe seems more current, but it’s not so anachronistic as to be self-referential and subversive along the lines of a “Shrek,” for example. In that regard, it actually ends up being pleasingly old-fashioned.
Shot in 3-D — rather than one of those muddled 2-D re-dos — the film looks crisp and clean. Once it bursts forth from the ground, the beanstalk itself is magnificent, enormous and richly detailed.
Tasked with climbing up this monstrosity is Nicholas Hoult, hot off the zombie romantic comedy “Warm Bodies,” as the title character. In staying mostly true to the story’s origins, Jack is a poor farm boy whose uncle sends him on an errand to sell the family horse. Instead he comes back with — you guessed it — beans. But they’re magic beans, so it’s cool.
While visiting the kingdom of Cloister that day, though, he also locks eyes briefly with a mysterious young woman. Turns out she’s the princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who has escaped her overprotective father (Ian McShane) in disguise to get a taste of what the real world is like.
A subsequent escape on a rainy night throws these two together again — but this time, one of those magical beans gets tragically wet. Boom — beanstalk, one that sends the princess high in the sky, all the way up to a long-forgotten land full of isolated and really angry giants.
There aren’t a whole lot of surprises here — if you know the story, you know what happens — although “Jack the Giant Slayer” features several inspired visuals. Hoult and Tomlinson have a nice chemistry with each other.
And they make room for some of the showier performances amid the strong supporting cast, including Stanley Tucci as the duplicitous Roderick.
The giants are fearsome and fully realized creatures with the help of motion-capture technology, especially Bill Nighy as their sadistic, two-headed leader. These are not bumbling behemoths but rather nimble warriors with a taste for blood who put the fright back into fee-fi-fo-fum.
“Jack the Giant Slayer” 3 stars
A smart and cheeky movie with a medieval setting and a modern vibe. It’s thrilling and fun, if somewhat predictable. With Nicholas Hoult as Jack, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane and Stanley Tucci.
Rated: PG-13 for violence, frightening images, language.
Showing: Regal Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.