This is movie for children: somewhat older, kind of aggressive, vaguely feral children. Most "event" movies are these days. They have to be easy to understand so that they can be sold all over the world to audiences of all ages, have to aim for the lower middle (or lower) and, if possible, make a lot of clattering noise. This one does all of those things, emphasis on the noise.
Booming trailer pronouncements OF "YOU. DON'T. KNOW. JACK." aside, you know exactly what happens, give or take several layers of padding. Jack (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies) is still a naive farm boy -- and points to the movie for keeping him sweet and brave instead of turning him into a smart-ass -- and he winds up trading a horse for magic beans that grow an enormous beanstalk. But at the top of that stalk is an entire race of angry giants who want an all-powerful crown that will allow them to rule the land below. Conspiring on the side of chaos is a royal functionary (Stanley Tucci, in the kind of role he can do in his sleep, like he's the Devil wearing Prada) who'll eventually rule the kingdom by marrying King Brahmwell's (Ian McShane) daughter, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Meanwhile, on the side of dashing heroism is a knight (Ewan McGregor, who knows exactly what movie he's in) determined not to let giants or traitorous court-dwellers ruin everything, the Han Solo to Jack's Skywalker.
There's no worrying about outcomes necessary when you're inside an entertainment-based machine like this. Everything is undemanding distraction. You get a wildly tangled, almost living beanstalk and some repulsive giants (they look like mucus-expelling sewer monsters and they spend a lot of time picking their pustule covered noses and creating flatulence, which any kid will tell you is the best thing a creature can do with his own disgusting body). There are some stylized animated effects that I hope didn't bankrupt the post-production houses and a reasonably fun (but too scarily violent for little ones) battle sequence to top it off before the happily-ever-after rolls around. But that's it and, target audience notwithstanding, that's never really enough. If you say it is then you're just giving it a pass.
As a vehicle for director Bryan Singer it's not much more than a sure-thing paycheck with sequel possibilities attached, one that feels like he was distracted by other concerns while making it. That's a bummer, because kid movie or not, there should be sparks, the smell of blood, the friction of characters bristling against one another. Instead you get a corporate product drained of personality, one where you can practically hear studio notes like "MAKE THE GIANTS FARTIER!" shouted from the sidelines, a charmless theme park ride that substitutes loudness for joy. Dried beans like this, they never really grow into much of anything.