Film of the week: Jack The Giant Slayer (12A) ****

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The English folktale of Jack And The Beanstalk is given a smart CGI-heavy makeover in Bryan Singer’s fast-paced fantasy.

Based on a script co-written by Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie, Jack The Giant Slayer takes the familiar story of magic beans and a blood-thirty behemoth as the foundations for a delightfully old-fashioned tale of derring-do replete with a boo-hiss villain and swooning damsel in distress.

Nicholas Hoult as Jack.

Nicholas Hoult as Jack.

A storybook opening sequence recounts the legend of King Erik, who defeated the giants and banished them to their kingdom in the clouds with the help of his magical crown.

Many centuries later, farm boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult) heads into town to sell his horse and cart.

He encounters a monk (Simon Lowe) bearing a pouch of stolen beans.

‘Those beans have the power to change the world. Don’t lose them and whatever you do, don’t get them wet!’ the holy man instructs Jack.

That night, a sudden deluge of rain causes one of the seeds to take root and a beanstalk rises terrifyingly into the sky, taking with it Jack’s home and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who happened to be passing in the downpour.

When King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) learns of his daughter’s fate, he organises a search party including valiant knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man Crawe (Eddie Marsan), Isabelle’s conniving fiance Roderick (Stanley Tucci), snivelling sidekick Wicke (Ewen Bremner) and Jack.

Atop the beanstalk, they discover an army of gargantuan warriors led by two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy, John Kassir) and his lieutenants, Fee, Fye, Foe and Fumm.

Invasion looms large...

Jack The Giant Slayer establishes a cracking pace and there are few pauses between the breathlessly orchestrated set pieces, including a first encounter with the giants viewed through Jack’s eyes as he holds his breath underwater.

Digital effects meld smoothly with live action, including a protracted sequence of the giants storming King Brahmwell’s castle.

Hoult is an endearing hero, plagued by a fear of heights, who comes to the fore in Isabelle’s hour of need.

Their romance is sweet, tempered by Tucci’s delightful scenery-chewing as the Machiavellian traitor in the royal court.

Parents may want to view the film before unleashing very young children into this fairytale realm because the violence is quite strong for a 12A certificate, including at least one member of supporting cast losing his head between a giant’s festering teeth.

Bloodshed isn’t gratuitous and Singer keeps most of the dismemberment off screen or blurred in the background.

There are casualties in every war and when mankind engages the giants in titanic battle, the body count on both sides is high.