On some level, you gotta feel a little bad for the giants.
Oh, not too bad, mind you. They do want to eat all of mankind, after all. But while we can take issue with them wanting to spread our innards over massive Triscuits, we must shoulder a bit of the blame ourselves. After all, they'd still be minding their own business if we hadn't launched those beanstalks at 'em.
It all began in ages past, when a bunch of monks conjured a bevy of fast-growing beans—hoping to use them as an organic elevator to heaven. Had these monks bothered to read Genesis, they would've realized the whole effort was a waste of time (and might've channeled their magic into giant Chia Pets or something). Alas, they did not: They scaled the beany vines and found a picturesque land populated by giants who, regrettably, were looking for more variety in their diets. The ensuing years were filled with great discomfort (perhaps gastrointestinal in nature for the giants) until some forward-thinking human king crafted a magical crown that gave him the power to rule over his ginormous enemies. And with his newfound clout, the king sent the giants back home.
But no one thought to, y'know, get rid of the beans. And if history teaches us anything, it's that if someone holds a bean of mass destruction, there's the temptation to use it.
Fast-forward several hundred years and meet Jack. He's trying to sell his horse when he runs across a very harried monk who promises to pay him "10 coppers" for the nag—only he doesn't have the cash with him. With credit cards not readily available, the monk offers Jack collateral—a bagful of beans.
It's really the most impractical trade imaginable, given that the monk cautions Jack to keep the legumes far away from water. That sorta nixes the idea of Jack planting them, eating them or even setting them on the edge of the local wave pool while he goes for swim. But Jack—a trusting sort of lad—accepts the beans anyway.
His significantly more cynical uncle (with whom Jack lives) is horrified at the trade. And in a fit of anger, he flings the beans across their hovel, where one slips through a crack in the floor. We can't buy thatch for the roof with beans! He hollers. And he stomps off.
Shortly thereafter, a storm descends upon the kingdom, water spilling through all those unthatched holes in Jack's roof. And wouldn't you know it, Princess Isabelle, running away from an unjust marriage and to some grand adventure, runs right into Jack's house—just before a rivulet of water touches that magical bean underneath the floorboards. Before you can say "Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!" Jack's house shoots straight up to the land of the giants with Isabelle in tow.
This, of course, thrills the giants to no end. After all, it's not every day a princess comes over for dinner.
Jack may not know beans about beans, but he does have a number of other nice traits. When his house goes up like a rocket, Jack's left behind—and you'd think he'd be loath to follow, given his fear of heights. But when the king organizes a rescue party filled with his bravest soldiers, Jack shoves his fears aside and volunteers to come along. And in his ensuing adventures, the low-born farmer showcases lots of noble bravery and resourcefulness. He saves Elmont (the equally brave leader of the royal guard), the princess and ultimately the whole kingdom from the rampaging giants, all of which makes his legume-oriented weaknesses feel a bit secondary.
But Jack's hardly the only one to show some serious gumption. In a scenario where many of us might be more inclined to slap some salsa on ourselves and pray we give the giants indigestion, Elmont, his soldiers and the princess all put their best foot forward and fight the good fight. The king shows his own wellspring of bravery, too, as well as some painful discernment skills. At one juncture, he decides it'd be better to cut down the beanstalk in order to save his kingdom—even though he believes it'll strand both his daughter and his soldiers. It's a tough call, but the right one.
In the end, we see how fairy tale endings come about. People don't live happily ever after through merely luck or magic. It takes sacrifice, and putting the needs of others above your own.
You won't find any grand spiritual lessons here, but Jack the Giant Slayer does take place in a world of faith. The whole beanstalk mess was created by monks who, in their sinful quest to reach heaven before their time, create beans from dark magic. We're told that the land of the giants is located halfway between earth and heaven, and God is acknowledged by both humankind and the giants.
The bean-trading monk, though, lays his life on the line by hiding the beans and telling the evildoer Roderick, "We owe it to God" to keep them safe. His assailant says, "Give Him my regards," then has the monk stabbed. When a giant asks Isabelle if she believes in God, she says that of course she does. "Would you like to meet Him?" the giant asks. "Not yet, no," Isabelle says.
We see a handful of monks startled out of prayer by a falling giant. Symbols of Christendom adorn a crown. Both the beans and the crown are called holy relics.
We see the princess get chummy with Jack—holding hands, hugging and eventually kissing. She's accosted in a theater, and her assailants eye her lecherously.
Jack the Giant Slayer may be based on a fairy tale. But its body count is in Die Hard territory. And rarely do even John McClane's worst enemies eat anybody.
These giants eat lots of folks. Though we don't see the actual act of someone being bitten or chewed, we do see the aftermath—half a corpse in a gigantic hand or a suit of armor spit out on the ground like a peanut shell. One gigantic cook prepares to turn Elmont into a "pig in a blanket," spearing two live pigs with "toothpicks" (offscreen) and throwing them into an oven where they're slowly baked (before Elmont escapes). A giant bites a lamb in two as well.
Giants throw people around, into walls or trees. They smash them with slingshot-hurled boulders. They fling flaming trees at them. They grab them off horses. They stomp on a corpse.
Humans inflict punishment too—though often it's on one another. Roderick and/or his toady sidekick kill several people—by stabbing them in the gut, pushing them off extraordinarily high cliffs or sawing through ropes intended to link them together while scaling the beanstalk. Roderick and Elmont have a long, drawn-out battle in which stab wounds are delivered to a hand, a foot and a torso. "We" also shoot giants with arrows, skewering one in the tongue and pricking several jumbo faces. Humans stab them in the back and indirectly send one into a moat full of flaming oil. (Flames lick the giant's body as he bellows in pain.) Jack and Elmont place a honeycomb full of bees into a giant's helmet, the fallout from which eventually causing him to topple over a cliff. His body lands in some sort of animal pen, and his corpse is shown periodically.
Falling vines cause damage as well—smashing houses and tents and parts of a castle, and threatening the lives of many. Jack and Isabelle, thrown clear of the vine, nearly skid into a sharp farm implement. A horse and rider crash through a gathering of people.
Perhaps the movie's most grotesque moment comes when someone consumes a magic bean. The thing rapidly grows, with tendrils coming out of its victim's nose, mouth and ears, and eventually blowing apart his whole body. (The camera focuses on a head exploding in a shower of parts.)
Crude or Profane Language
A smattering of bad words includes "b‑‑tard," "p‑‑‑," an abbreviated use of the British profanity "b-gger" and two uses of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused once or twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Giants are a gross lot, burping and letting loose gas with regularity. The giant cook picks his nose and eats the mucus before preparing a meal.
The princess lies to and disobeys her father. She runs away. Jack is blackmailed into giving the beans to someone very bad.
Fairy tales are big business these days, though most are being tweaked and twisted for more jaded audiences. And as such, you never know what you're going to get when an old tale reemerges in a reimagined way in a movie. Is it going to be a light lark, á la 2012's Mirror Mirror? Or an R-rated bloodbath, like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters? Only Plugged In's reviews will reveal!
Except in this case, not even Jack the Giant Slayer's makers seemed to know what sort of movie they wanted to make. So the result is both/and.
At one end of the beanstalk, this is a simple morality tale tailored for tweens: Jack's a great, noble hero. Roderick's a likably loathsome villain. The overall atmosphere is a bit frivolous. The giants themselves are just the right amounts of creepy and cool.
But at the other—the business end—there's an awful amount of violence to contend with. Watching that vine push apart a victim from the inside, I was reminded of when I was young and my mother took me and my little sister to see Raiders of the Lost Ark (before the PG-13 rating came into play). She had been told that Raiders was very much like all those old Saturday afternoon serials she had grown up with, so she assumed it was OK. As it turned out, my sister didn't get to see much of it. From the time the Nazi gets chopped up by a propeller to the point where most everyone's face melts, my mother was literally covering her eyes.
Jack the Giant Slayer may be a few notches more cartoonish than Raiders, but there still could be a fresh batch of kids who grow up and have similar tales to tell.