Wednesday 5 June 2013

Munir's Epic Review: Not So 'Epic' After All

*This review contains mild spoilers*

Blue Sky Studios have been making films for over a decade now, but they've never have truly created a truly great great film. I mean, sure the first Ice Age is funny, has heart and some great characters but after their promising start they they've been going downhill ever since. Robots is as cold as the metal that the characters wear, the Ice Age sequels are derivative and less and less funny which each passing, Horton has its moments and a valuable lesson but the main character is obnoxious (among other problems), and Rio is colourful and has some catchy songs but it feels overly long and the plot is a tad familiar.

Now comes Epic, a film that promised beautiful animation, a great story, grand action scenes and some good humour. Unfortunately, only the first promise is delivered as this film is one of the most boring and painfully unfunny movies I've encountered in recent years. After watching the trailers, I had some hope that that his film was going to be a pleasant surprise. To my dismay, I was surprised, but not pleasantly.

Epic tells the story of a little human race that lives in the forest, they're called the Leafmen and their task is to protect the forest from evil creatures called the Boggans and their leader, Mandrake, who wants to destroy it. The Leafmen are leaded by Ronin and their main task is to protect Queen Tara so she can choose a successor who will continue to protect the forest. Meanwhile, in the human world, Mary Katherine (MK) is forced to live with  her eccentric Dad, Professor Bomba, who lives nearby the forest, after her mother dies. They don't have the best relationship, in most part because of Bomba's obsession of finding the little people that nobody believes are real. This has cost him his marriage and could potentially destroy his fragile relationship with his daughter. Meanwhile in the forest, Queen Tara is about to pick a leaf pod to announce as her heir. But, when she picks one, the Boggans attack and a series of events unravel in which MK is turned into a tiny human and now has to partner with Ronin and the Leafmen to save the pod and restore balance to the forest. In their mission they'll meet a slug called Mub, a snail called Grub, and a Leafmen defector called Nod, who is not interested in following Ronin's path but is a potential love interest for MK.

That spoiler free synopsis is pretty much what you need to know about the film. And while the trailers made us think of a grandiose adventure, Epic is merely an average animated film with colourful animation and some good action scenes. Once again, Blue Sky plays it safe and, instead of trying something truly ambitious, they settled with something to "entertain" the children.

What frustrates me the most is that the film shows a lot of potential in certain scenes (the early chase through the forest is one of the few highlights of the film) and shows us hints of what could've been a truly epic (pun intended) movie. Instead, every inspired move is hindered by one-note characters and unnecessary scenes. Given the care and development that other studios (mainly Pixar) give to their characters, I was very surprised to see how bland the characters in Epic were. No one makes a lasting impression on you and aside from some inspired voice work (Christoph Waltz is great as the villain Mandrake and Amanda Seyfried does a good job with MK) there's nothing that stands out. The problem with this is that the audience do not care about the characters and their missions, making the movie a futile affair and lacking a sense of pay-off in the end.

The pacing is another glaring problem that the picture has. While the first act moves along nicely, the second drags, with many unnecessary sequences which ultimately prevents the third act from rising an explosive climax, instead serving as a predictable finale. I really kept wondering when the film would end, as it felt very long (although its running time says otherwise).

Last but not least, the film's lack of focus is the most damaging issue of the whole production. The movie really doesn't know what does it want to be. Is it a father-daughter story? An environmental one? A good vs. evil one? Unfortunately, Epic tries to be all of them at one but ends up being none. The father-daughter story is horribly managed as you never care for their relationship in the first place. To makes matters worse, Professor Bomba is one of the most idiotic and stupid characters I've encountered in recent films and you just can't feel anything but contempt and disgust for the guy. It's like director Chris Wedge and company wanted a funny character but instead they created a senseless buffoon and his scenes are the worst in the movie. The other themes are better developed but in the end  the mix does not click and we are left with a dull film with scattered moments of greatness.

Ultimately, Epic is the new member of the long list of "children"-only films that makes animation seem like "kiddie-fare". While there are some thrilling moments here and there and the animation is lush and beautiful, the movie plays it safe and tells an average story that tries to mix three themes in one, but undeveloped characters and many dull and uninteresting scenes prevent it from soaring to new heights. Children will like it but I'm afraid that adults and animation lovers will feel bored to death. If you want to see an animated film, rent a Pixar or a Disney film or wait a few more weeks for Monsters University, because watching Epic in theatres will be an epic (pun intended again) waste of money.


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