“How do you know that giants aren’t real?” a young Jack asks his father after he reads him a bedtime fairy tale.  “I don’t,” replies the father — and it’s not long before Jack discovers that everything he needs to know he learned in kindergarten, or at least bedtime stories.  Can the poor farmer boy team up with a headstrong princess to defend the land from the monsters of old, plus a traitor closer at hand?  If you don’t know the answer to this, well, you just don’t know Jack the Giant Slayer.

It’s easy to laugh at the concept, which sounds more like a treatment for a Disney animated adventure for kids than a big-budget action movie for adults.  At times, it gets a little too silly and a bit too precious, especially the headstrong-independent-and-unsurprisingly-capable princess.  However, the cast, direction, and action deliver a rollicking good time for a popcorn movie, making it well worth a look in the theater for an evening of diversion.

The story itself is a rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk, but expanded and shifted to a larger context of a war between men and giants.  Jack’s treasure from the fairy tale makes only a brief cameo appearance in this film, and instead focuses more grimly on the rather disgusting giants and their hatred for mankind. This would make for a grim presentation (pun intended), but is kept lively by humorous banter and charming performances.

In fact, Jack‘s best quality is its cast, a collection of top-drawer talent surrounding two rising stars.  Nicholas Hoult, who recently shone (or perhaps glowed) in Warm Bodies, plays Jack as a naive-yet-determined young man not necessarily looking for adventure, but prepared to handle it when it arrives.  Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) plays Isabelle, the princess who desperately wants adventure and who maybe gets more than she bargained for.  Both are charming on screen, and demonstrate chemistry together.  They have the good fortune of being surrounded by Ian McShane as the king, Ewan MacGregor as the king’s trusted captain of the guard, Eddie Marsan as his stalwart lieutenant, and Stanley Tucci as Isabelle’s ambitious and ruthless fiance.

If you’re interested in deep thought and philosophical pondering, look elsewhere for entertainment.  If you just want to have fun, Jack the Giant Slayer is a good choice.  Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 for violence and frightening sequences, but I sat close by a father and his ~10-year-old daughter, and she seemed to have a good time.  I’d be cautious with children who are easily frightened, but if you have a child looking for adventure, this may be a good choice.