Movie Review: Early Man
Early Man is a cute, mildly funny, and extremely niche movie. If you like British humor and/or soccer, you’ll enjoy it.
I don’t think a movie has tried to target a smaller slice of the American Pie since Brokeback Mountain. Early Man seems targeted at expatriated English soccer hooligans who’ve since settled down and had children. It’s about cavemen living in prehistoric (well, they have cave paintings, so just-barely-historic) Manchester, England. They invent soccer and use it to one-up the French. This movie is so British my movie theater soda turned into Earl Grey Tea.
As such, this movie is very hit or miss. I liked it, and was tickled by the jokes. I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t grow up watching Monty Python or the BBC is going to get this movie at all.
Early Man (2018)
Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) is a stone age lad with big goals. Mammoth sized, actually. Living in an idyllic valley with his bumbling tribe, Dug wants to do more than just hunt rabbits. There are two problems with Dug’s Mammoth hunting dreams: his tribe is perfectly happy with their unambitious life; they are also hopelessly incompetent.
Everything changes when Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) and his bronze age invaders conquer the valley and eject Dug’s tribe. A botched attempt on Nooth’s life brings Dug to Bronze City, where he unwittingly challenges the Bronze Agers at their sacred past-time: football. Now Dug has one lunar cycle to whip his tribe into shape to play for the fate of their valley. Luckily for him, a soccer phenom named Goona (Maisie Williams) agrees to help in exchange for becoming the first woman to play on the sacred pitch.
Early Man is best when it’s being silly. The opening sequence was great and had some Caveman-grade slapstick. The movie bogs down when it has to lean on subtle jokes and cultural nods. I got most of the references in Early Man’s word-play, they just didn’t do more than get a smirk out of me. You’d have to really, really, like European Football culture to get a rise out of a lot of Early Man.
It’s hard to imagine the jokes in this movie doing anything for children other than sailing straight over their heads. I really enjoy children’s programming that has subtle jokes to keep parents engaged, but there has to be something for the kids to enjoy as well. You won’t have to worry about sitting through 2 hours of fart jokes here, but you’ll probably have to take your kids out for ice-cream afterwards as an apology.
It’s Got the Directors Fingerprints All Over It… Literally
The art style is classic Nick Park. If you liked his previous works such as Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit, or Shaun the Sheep, you’ll know what to expect here. His creations are always winsomely ugly. They always look like doofs, which is good, because they are doofs. Park portrays lovable losers about as well as any in the animation industry. It’s easy to root for Dug and Co.
While claymation is not groundbreaking, it is used so infrequently that I was engaged by its use in a feature length film. There is a ton going on visually; animating it all must have been a herculean task. I’ve never seen one of Park’s films on the big screen, as such I was mesmerized by little things. During the talkier parts I would play a game where I would see how many frames a fingerprint lasted on a certain character (they are hand molded, you can literally see prints all over Dug and crew). It reminded me of the good old days when HD first came out and flyovers of scenic Maine were jaw dropping.
Scratching the Niche
Early Man is such inoffensive entertainment that I was baffled when the ticket machine warned me that I should supervise any children who were watching this film with me. Really? Bambi gets a G for deer homicide and animals twitterpating all over the place, and I have to beware a film where they can’t even cook a rabbit?
This film would be the perfect “let a projector babysit your kids” movie… if I thought your kids would have any fun watching it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I’m almost forty. Should you ask me to name a recent comedy duo I would say Mitchell and Webb when the correct answer was Key and Peele. If you and yours have tastes that skew a little limey, you’ll have a good time. If not, maybe Peter Rabbit would be more up your… wait, that’s British too?
Sorry, I got nothing for you.