Early Man - This Stone Age Movie Sadly Doesn't Quite Rock
Dir: Nick Park
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Johnny Vegas, MIriam Margolyes, Richard Ayoade
OK, let’s cut to the chase. It’s takes a long time for Nick Park to make a movie. We wait – with high expectations – a long time for a new Nick Park movie. And, truth be told, this one is…a little disappointing. There – we’ve said it, it’s out there, no taking it back. Whilst Early Man is a gorgeous ting to look at, beautifully animated, with both technical skill and a sense of delightful absurdity, it also feels…well, underwhelming.
It may be the arena it finds itself in. (It may also be the fact that Park is genuinely better suited to the short film.) One of the things that Wallace & Gromit did so well was to create their own world, a perfectly constructed and realised universe of one man and his dog. Yes, others came into it – but these interlopers (both good and bad) played within W&G’s own hermetically sealed rules.
Ironically, Early Man also deals with rules – but those of the football pitch. Gone is the unique singular vision of Park’s finer work, here replaced by something that could almost be described as “sprawling.” Nothing wrong with ambition, but Park as a filmmaker has always been concerned with the minutiae. Here, he moves from crashing comets to crashing ages as Stone Meets Bronze Meets Fifa. Even the internal logic Early Man struggles to set up doesn’t sustain or even ring true. And even when the movie shifts to action on the footy field, visually the film lacks the sheer energy and dynamism of Park’s best work – compare the sheer exuberance and unhinged vibrancy of Feathers McGraw’s climactic train chase with the big football finale here. And…there’s no comparison. This borders on limp.
More than anything, we blame the script. Whilst old and cheesy gags are par for the course in all things Aardman, the spin they usually put on such is in short supply here. If anything – and we never though we’d say this in connection to an Aardman movie - it feels derivative. And that’s not just the fact that that it lifts a Python/Life Of Brian gag in its opening crawl, or that Tom Hiddleston’s very French Lord Nooth sounds clearly like he has a hamster-like mother and his father more than likely smelt of elderberries, or how remarkably old hat Rob Brydon’s two match commentating Brians feel. It just has a habit of falling flat more than lifting up.
It is of course still a Nick Park movie, so whilst we may concentrate on the negative it is not to say it is fully without charm. But, even when you may find yourself smiling (more than laughing) there is still a cloud of disappointment hanging over this Stone Age/Bronze Age mash up.
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