When it comes to "Jack the Giant Slayer," many of America's critics think its fee, fye, humdrum.
The Bryan Singer-directed fantasy adventure from Warner Bros. debuted Friday to mixed reviews, with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times , among others, complaining that this beanstalk's not worth climbing. "Jack the Giant Slayer" — the name an apparent attempt to up the action ante and expunge any references to agriculture — premiered to a mediocre 52 percent "rotten" rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
The film stars Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor and cost a reported $195 million to produce.
For TheWrap's Leah Rozen, that wasn't money well-spent. She acknowledged that the film was "fitfully amusing" and praised Hoult's performance, but said that the picture did not have a strong sense of identity.
"The problem is that 'Jack' is never antic enough to be a true comedy or original enough in its action sequences to seem like more than a warmed over version of too many movies we’ve seen before," Rozen writes.
In the Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern implies that the studio should have shoveled more of those millions towards script development. Singer's riff on the classic fairytale is little more than a pretext for special effects wizardry, the critic writes.
"The stalk itself is immense, a tuberous tangle of runaway growth at the intersection of Hollywood and vine," Morgenstern writes. "Yet no one stops for the slightest expression of astonishment when the beanstalk bursts from a single bean to fill the sky, and there's lots of noise but little jubilation when it finally comes crashing down. It's hard to be jubilant, or anything close, about Bryan Singer's elaborate riff on the classic fairy tale, which was shot in indifferent 3-D and stars Nicholas Hoult as Jack and Eleanor Tomlinson as Isabelle, the princess he loves."
Manohla Dargis was impressed by the beanstalk even as she was unenchanted by the action unfolding around it. In The New York Times, she wrote that the first parts of the picture are intermittently enjoyable, but that it fails to sustain its sense of adventure through the closing credits.
"If it drifts with increasing frequency it’s because, well, this finally is just a digitally souped-up, one-dimensional take on 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' capped by the kind of interminable blowout that makes many big-studio entertainments feel as long as the last Oscars," Dargis writes.
NPR's Ian Buckwalter found more to praise in Singer's vision than Dargis. He said the film was entertaining and well constructed, even as he noted that it had a case of tonal hiccups.
"Last year's two Snow White films effectively demonstrated the dichotomy of approaches for fairy tale adaptations," Buckwalter writes. "Mirror Mirror took the younger route, with bright colors and dwarf-pratfall humor. Snow White and the Huntsman was the darker, more adult take on the story. Singer's film attempts unsuccessfully to satisfy both impulses, and tends to be most successful when sticking to the latter. Those missteps might lead to some disappointment, but with modest expectations, Jack the Giant Slayer is at worst a pleasant diversion."
Christy Lemire praised the film for being "cheeky," but never "cutesy," and pronounced the proceedings to be "a whole lot of fun." In her review in the Associated Press, she hailed the visual effects and the chemistry between Hoult's Jack and Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays the princess who captures his heart.
"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," Lemire writes. "In that regard, it actually ends up being pleasingly old-fashioned."
For the Boston Globe's Tom Russo, "Jack the Giant Slayer" is one ride worth taking. He praised Singer for applying wit to all the spectacle and for upping the ante with an action-heavy third act.
"The stratospheric beanstalk is a show-stealing effects element, veritably exploding into the story, and — spoiler? — eventually coming down like some green apocalypse," Russo writes. "And the heroes’ entry into the giants’ realm is fairly stunning stuff, a collection of eerie scenes that brazenly cast King Kong’s Skull Island into the Middle Ages."
Looks like somebody is about to get quoted on the poster.