I don’t think we really need another story about a boy from a poor background overcoming obstacles to become a man by asserting his masculine dominance and attempting to win the love of a high-born woman. If the film had reversed the roles it might have been a bit more interesting, as I rather tire of feisty attractively-coiffed and dressed young women being rescued by weedy male heroes. But then being based on a fairy tale is hardly likely to lead to a work of subtle artistry. So if the script is a bit on the weak side, trading in generic tropes and absurd caricatures, the film still has plenty to commend it in the performances. It is also winningly — and at times breaktakingly — silly, which is a virtue in this kind of enterprise. Clearly, what this film wants most to be compared to is The Princess Bride (1987), and in that it at least, it partially succeeds.
The key pleasure is in the actors, who all have suitably filmic gravitas, but are willing to push their performances to the edge of caricature in the service of what is avowedly a crowd-pleasing family-friendly flick. Ian McShane affects regality as the King, slipping adroitly into bathos early on when he moves pleadingly towards his daughter, revealing that the stately robes he is posing in are pinned to the ground, and that underneath he is dressed in flashy golden armour (which leads to one of the better throwaway lines later in the film when Jack remarks on the similarity of father and daughter’s suits of armour). Stanley Tucci as a grimacing adviser to the King (rather akin to Christopher Guest’s Count in Princess Bride) does everything but cackle maniacally (actually, maybe he does do that), while Ewan McGregor’s head of the King’s guards struts around with dashing aplomb, grinning in the face of all conceivable dangers.
McGregor’s character really should have been the romantic hero, dispensing with Nicholas Hoult’s rather dreary Jack, but then the love story is luckily not the film’s prime interest. It prefers instead to focus on the clash between the humans (the English men) and the giants (all of whom have Irish accents, and four of whom are named Fe, Fi, Fo and Fum, of course), leading to a suitably histrionic climactic third, which nevertheless is all crashingly good fun. The film also sets up for its final scene a coup de théâtre of surpassing preposterousness, which is a good note for the film to end on, and left me feeling fairly satisfied.
Director Bryan Singer; Writers Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney; Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel; Starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci; Length 114 minutes.
Seen at Peckham Multiplex (2D), London, Monday 1 April 2013.