Fairytale retellings have become a staple feature in Hollywood. With such films as last year’s Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel, the upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful, and ABC’s hit show Once Upon a Time, Jack the Giant Slayer proves that the fantasy genre remains a force to be reckoned with, even if said genre does little to reinvent its source material.

Based on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, Jack the Giant Slayer is an ambitious movie with simplistic, archetypal characters and an easily-followed plot: boy meets princess; boy loses princess; boy fights off CGI giants to save princess. Warm BodiesNicholas Hoult stars as Jack, a dashing, orphaned peasant boy raised on myths about giants and who yearns to be a part of the royal guard. On a market trip to sell his horse and cart, he defends princess-in-hiding Isabelle’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) virtue, ala Disney’s Aladdin, and exchanges his animal for a monk’s ancient beans. The frantic monk warns slack-jawed Jack not to expose the beans to water before he rides away, only to be captured and killed by Stanley Tucci’s megalomaniac Roderick, who serves as Isabelle’s betrothed. What would happen if said beans got wet? Jack’s about to find out.

Back at home, a heated confrontation with his adoptive uncle causes Jack to unknowingly lose one of his beans under the floorboards. Conveniently, a rainstorm begins that night and Jack’s shack is liable to leak. As a stream of water weaves its way towards the lone bean, Princess Isabelle, starved for freedom and adventure, comes to his abode searching for shelter. Jack and Isabelle's few flirtatious moments together are shattered when the bean under their feet is inundated and begins to grow. Franken-stalks shoot from the ground, uprooting the shack’s foundation and catapulting Isabelle, stuck inside, into the sky. The film’s pace picks up from here as Jack, armed with Roderick (who has his own ulterior motives for visiting the giants) and the royal guard, including Elmont (Ewan McGregor), climbs the beanstalk to rescue Isabelle. What they discover is the stuff of legend: a sprawling land above the clouds, inhabited by giants who don’t take too kindly to humans. Myths say that long ago a crown was wrought from a giant’s heart, whose wearer would exert complete control over the giants. Sounds like something Roderick would enjoy, no?

Jack the Giant Slayer is subpar entertainment at best. The action sequences are fun, but not enough to skyrocket your adrenaline as high as Giantland’s vine. The 3D effects don’t provide many opportunities for characters or objects to jump off the screen – the frenetic, violent growth of the beanstalk doesn’t amaze in that regard. Would the entertainment value have been lessened in good old 2D? I doubt it. The heavy use of CGI also detracts from fully accepting the giants’ world and the giants themselves, though the craggy landscape and winding woods are delightfully atmospheric. Several scenes were shot in England’s Puzzlewood forest, a typical filming location for fantasy projects such as BBC favorites Merlin and Doctor Who. Many of the questions I was left with had to do with a giant’s life. How did giants come to be? What is their history and culture? For how long can they live, seeing as there only seem to be adult males?

Finally, the film doesn’t spend too much time fleshing out its characters, and I think that’s what disappointed me the most. The film isn’t character-driven, though its title hints otherwise. With such a predictable plot, it might have been advantageous to spruce the players up a bit. The actors do the best they can with the roles they were given, though they don’t engage as much as they could have. For instance, I didn’t feel the need to root for Jack because I wasn’t emotionally invested in him, and I sort of already had an idea whether or not he’d emerge victorious. The same applies to the giants. All that is known about them is their nasty, vengeful demeanors, brute force and proclivity for sheep. And that’s exactly how Jack and company find them. I wonder how the film would’ve transformed if the giants revealed themselves as peaceful vegans with more personality, or if Jack turned out a bit villainous. It wouldn’t have been Jack the Giant Slayer, but it might have offered something a little more original. Who knows? Perhaps one day Hollywood will reinvent giants the way Warm Bodies reinvented zombies.

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